July 3, 2008

Federal fisheries managers have good news on status of fish stocks

Federal fisheries managers took a giant step towards ending overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks in 2007, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“We have really good news this year,” said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries Service acting assistant administrator, during a press conference announcing the results of the 2007 report on the condition of fish stocks.

The annual report tracks population levels and harvest rates for fish caught in federal waters between three and 200 miles off the coast.

The report showed improvements over the status of stocks in 2006.

Seven stocks, including northern and southern monkfish and Atlantic bigeye tuna, were removed from the overfishing category.

Overfishing occurs when fishermen catch too many fish, resulting in a stock unable to sustain its population size.

Four stocks, including Atlantic bigeye tuna, were no longer classified as overfished.

Overfished stocks are those whose population size falls below a biological level specified in fishery management plans.  Declines in population can result from natural and environmental factors, as well as from overfishing.

The report found that three stocks were added to the fully recovered category, and four stocks, including dolphin, were approaching full recovery.

Not all the news was good, however.  Summer flounder and winter skate fell from recovering to the overfished category in 2007.

Still, the total number of stocks subject to overfishing fell from 48 in 2006 to 41 in 2007, and the number of overfished stocks dropped from 47 to 45.

“This is great news for the American people and for the scientists who devote their lives to the study of fish populations,” said Balsiger.

He said the eight regional councils that develop management plans for federal fisheries are on track towards ending all overfishing by 2010.   For some species, the councils are implementing new annual harvest limits and accountability measures for both commercial and recreational fishermen.

“For the vast majority of stocks, the councils have actions in the pipeline and are now going through the process to implement new rules,” he said.

“Next year will be a good year for us,” Balsiger predicted. 

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