Earlier this week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released it’s annual report detailing progress made towards national fish stock rebuilding efforts. Overall the report noted positive improvements in most stocks, but the New England Fishery stands out as still having plenty of room for improvement. The Gloucester Daily Times reports that according to NOAA, the New England multispecies groundfishery “continues to lead all U.S. regions in the number of damaged or imperiled stocks.”
There is some important terminology used in these reports each year with very specific definitions. NOAA uses the following terms, which are often misused in everyday conversations on the topic:
Overfishing – The annual rate of catch is too high.
Overfished – The population size is too small.
Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) – MSY is the largest long-term average catch or yield that can be taken from a stock or stock complex under prevailing ecological and environmental conditions.
Rebuilt – A previously overfished stock that has increased in abundance to the target population size that supports its maximum sustainable yield.
These annual reports reflect generally on the previous fishing year and the progress made towards rebuilding fish stocks in accordance with the regulations that have been put in place. Stock assessments are conducted on an annual or semiannual basis, depending on the fishery and the resources made available by the government for measuring the health of a particular stock in a particular region. NOAA explains the stock assessment further:
Since 1996, NOAA Fisheries has reported on the status of U.S. fisheries, as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Reporting on the status of fish stocks provides fisheries managers and the public with an account of how well current fisheries management measures are working. A scientific analysis of the abundance and composition of a fish stock (stock assessment) evaluates the stock against reference points. Stock assessments use the best information available, which may include data from fisheries landings, scientific surveys, and biological studies. NOAA Fisheries uses the stock assessment and reference points to determine whether the stock is subject to overfishing or overfished. Information from the stock assessment is used by the regional fishery management council to recommend the annual catch limit for the stock.
In some parts of the country, great progress has been made towards achieving sustainability using the stock assessment, quota-based, annual-review process. However, these regulations and studies are subject to the best available science- an issue that is very controversial here in our historic multispecies fishery. Many questions have been raised on the reliability of the science behind the methods for collection and analysis in the stock assessments here in the northeast. What’s more, fishermen in the northeast fishery have not exceeded a single fishing quota in many years, which strongly suggests that overfishing is not the problem. Much work remains to be done from a regulatory standpoint to ensure fish stocks are reliably measured for accurate stock assessments and an improved regulatory framework for the future.
You can read NOAA’s annual report here.