fisheries

Moira Brown and New England Aquarium

A workshop in Woods Hole on February 1st brought together an unusual combination of scientists, engineers, fishermen, and government regulators to talk about an even more unusual idea: catching lobsters with no rope connecting the traps at the bottom with a buoy at the surface.

gmri.org

It’s no secret that the lobster fishery in southern New England is in trouble. The population has declined by almost eighty percent in the past few decades. In contrast, lobsters in the Gulf of Maine have exploded and the fishery has seen record landings. So, what gives? 

Right now, fewer than one in five ground fishing trips in New England is monitored by an independent observer. Fishermen say it’s too expensive, and unfair to ask them to pay the cost. The Nature Conservancy is experimenting with an alternative: video monitoring systems, and computer algorithms that could identify fish being caught and thrown overboard on every trip.

As water temperatures rise, southern New England is losing its lobsters.
Derek Keats, Wikimedia Commons / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

When it comes to the iconic fisheries of New England, lobster is a close second only to cod. But lobsters are not faring well in the waters off southern New England. In fact, on a ten-point scale, lobster biologist Kari Lavalli of Boston University puts the population at a three.

Beth Casoni, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, says lobsters south and west of Cape Cod have faced “a multitude of stressors.” Lavalli agrees, but points the finger primarily at climate change. Both say this is definitely not the fault of those who catch and eat lobsters.

File photo, Flickr

Carlos Rafael, a New Bedford-based fisherman who owned, operated and controlled much of the region’s fishing fleet, pleaded guilty to dozens of federal fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges Thursday. The fishing mogul now faces up to 6-and-a-half years in prison.

Around New Bedford, Rafael is known as the ‘Codfather.’ The 64-year-old Portuguese immigrant built a remarkable business, with more than 40 boats at his disposal. His business was so robust, Rafael was allowed to catch about 25 percent of all of the fish New England’s fishermen may bring ashore each season.

Brian Morris/WCAI

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous professions in America. Consider this statistic: in the ten years from 2000 to 2010, 170 commercial fishermen in the U.S. lost their lives by falling overboard. To help reduce the number of fatalities in our region, a safety and survival training program is going on, designed to teach fishermen what to do during emergencies on their vessels. 

Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance

The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is launching an effort this summer to try to get consumers to develop a taste for two under-appreciated fish species.

Mac Hay/Mac's Seafood

Have you ever had whiting? It’s a small fish, usually about 12-to-14 inches long, with a soft white flesh and a mild flavor. It lives in our waters, and historically, the whiting fishery was big on Cape Cod every fall. These days, though, most local fisherman aren’t catching whiting, and it’s hard to find in local markets.

Massachusetts shellfish growers and oyster aficionados have suffered a string of unusual closures in recent weeks. Large swaths of New England waters have been closed to shellfishing because of a harmful algal bloom that could cause amnesic shellfish poisoning, while officials closed Wellfleet Harbor after an outbreak of the stomach bug, norovirus. While the two events are unrelated, they have one thing in common – the closures are likely to last weeks.

Lydia Keating

On a steamy August day, at 5:30 in the morning, I joined a crew of fishermen on the Maria Mendosa—one of the few trap fishing boats in the world. It’s called trap fishing because you catch fish in a massive floating net trap. And when I say massive, I mean a floating net the size of a football field.

There’s no bait. Instead, the fish get caught as the fishermen pull up the net. The traps are placed roughly 1 mile off the coast here in Narragansett Bay, just waiting for fish to come by. Captain Corey Forest said that the traps are like giant floating aquariums.

Center for Coastal Studies / NOAA permit 18786

It's the holy grail of commercial fishing: catch just the right amount of just the right size of just the right species, without damage to the physical environment. It's a tall order, and few fisheries are there yet.

Don Cuddy

The accepted method for assessing fish stocks involves catching samples in a net, hauling them up, and counting. Nearly everyone agrees it's a method with drawbacks. The sample size is necessarily limited, and the most of fish do not survive. But now there may be a better way.  

Cod fishing - for research - aboard the Barbara K. Peters of Scituate, MA.
Heather Goldstone / WCAI

If you want to protect New England's most iconic fish and still allow fishermen to catch them, it’s critical to know when and where they reproduce. The trouble is, we don't.

Jenny Junker

If you fish, then you have surely noticed: there just aren't as many striped bass around as there were eight or ten years ago. And the most recent stock assessment by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission confirms this fact. While it asserts that overfishing is not yet occurring, the science indicates that the spawning biomass of striped bass has been steadily declining and is now approaching a critical level.

What's to be done? To protect striped bass, regulators are considering cutting back on the recreational allowance. The three approaches under consideration are 1) a 25% cutback in the 2015 harvest, or: 2) a "3-year plan" that calls only for a 17% cut the first year and no cuts the following 2 years, or 3) a 3-year plan calling for a 7% cut each year for 3 consecutive years starting in 2015. Within these 3 approaches, "specific options to be considered include bag, size, slot and trophy size limits for the recreational fishery and quota reductions for the commercial fishery."

What does that mean for the recreational angler? In Massachusetts, the current limit is two bass per day with a 28-inch minimum. It seems likely that this limit will be reduced, perhaps to one bass at 28-inches, or one bass at 32-inches.

The good news is that striped bass are considered one of the better managed species in the fishery. Because they spawn in inshore waters, scientists have been able to amass good data on their habitats and spawning stock. And this proposed intervention seems to be coming enough in advance to head-off a major stock collapse like what was seen in the 1980s, when keeper-sized bass became scarce along the Massachusetts coast. 

As the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission weighs its options, it is seeking public input. Two public hearings are being held in our region, both on Tuesday, September 2nd. Here the location details:

September 2 at 10 AM
Nantucket Community Room
4 Fairgrounds Road
Nantucket, Massachusetts

September 2 at 6 PMMassachusetts Maritime AcademyAdmiral’s Hall, 101 Academy DriveBuzzards Bay, Massachusetts  

Written public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on September 30, 2014 and should be forwarded to Mike Waine, ASMFC, 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or mwaine@asmfc.org.

Bad news about New England’s cod fishery is nothing new, but it’s taken on a new urgency in the past few years.

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