Archive for the Legislation Category

Jan 31 2018

Washington Gov Urges Support for Sea Lion Control Bill in Congress

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2018

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [TDN.COM] by Katy Sword – January 31, 2018


Gov. Jay Inslee is urging U.S. House representatives from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to support a bill penned by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, that seeks to reduce sea lion predation on at-risk fish populations, including salmon and steelhead.

Inslee sent a letter to the Northwest delegation asking for support Friday with the support of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

“Although several hundred million dollars are invested annually to rebuild these native fish runs, their health and sustainability is threatened unless Congress acts to enhance protection from increasing sea lion predation,” the letter reads. “It’s hard to imagine successful recovery of threatened and endangered fish populations with these high levels of interception by sea lions.”

Researchers estimate sea lions consume nearly 20 percent of the spring Chinook run, and a study by NOAA Fisheries found up to 45 percent of adult Chinook salmon disappear between Bonneville Dam and the estuary. Those loses are attributed to sea lion predation.

The bill, HR 2083, allows state, federal and tribal authorities to respond faster and more efficiently. Lethal removal is still limited in the bill.

“I am pleased to see bipartisan support for my bill continue to grow,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. “As the governors stated in their letter, we must act to protect our native Columbia River salmon and steelhead. I am hopeful that the senators from Oregon and Washington will also join in supporting this bill to successfully move it through Congress.”

Inslee, Brown and Otter wrote that they hope the two chambers can come to an agreement on the bill and implement it with bipartisan support.

“No one wants to harm these great marine mammals, but effectively dealing with a small fraction of the healthy sea lion population is preferable to losing unique and irreplaceable species of salmon,” the letter concludes.

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Oct 31 2017

‘Rule of Thumb’ Management Approach Is Wrong For Forage Fish, Dr. Ray Hilborn Tells U.S. Senate

Saving Seafood interviews Dr. Ray Hilborn about forage fish management ahead of his testimony before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.


WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – October 31, 2017 – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard last week, respected fisheries scientist Dr. Ray Hilborn testified that fisheries managers “can do better than a one-size-fits-all” approach to managing forage fish. He also said there was “no empirical evidence to support the idea that the abundance of forage fish affects their predators.”

Dr. Hilborn’s comments came in response to questioning from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) about whether fisheries managers should manage forage fish according to a “rule of thumb” approach, where fisheries are managed according to a set of broad ecological and management principals, or a “case-by-case” approach, where management is guided by more species-specific information.

Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, was part of a team of top fisheries scientists that recently examined these issues, as well as what effects fishing for forage fish species had on predator species. Their research indicated that previous studies, like a 2012 report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, may have overestimated the strength of the predator-prey relationship.

Before the hearing, Dr. Hilborn spoke with Saving Seafood about his research and his message for lawmakers.

“It’s very clear that there really are no applicable rules of thumb, that every system is independent [and] behaves differently, and we need to have the rules for each individual forage fish fishery determined by looking at the specifics of that case,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood.

He also discussed his team’s finding that forage fish abundance has little impact on their predators. They looked at nearly all U.S. forage fish fisheries, including the California Current system and Atlantic menhaden, and concluded that predator species generally pursue other food sources when the abundance of any one forage species is low.

“The predators seem to go up or down largely independent of the abundance of forage fish,” Dr. Hilborn said, adding, “For Atlantic menhaden, for their major predators, the fishery has reasonably little impact on the food that’s available to them.”

Another key message Dr. Hilborn had for the Subcommittee was that fisheries managers must determine what they want to accomplish so that scientists can advise them accordingly.

“The time has come to refocus our fisheries policy on what we actually want to achieve because rebuilding is only a means to an end,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood. “Do we want to maximize the economic value of our fisheries? Do we want to maximize jobs? Do we want to maximize food production?”

In his testimony, Dr. Hilborn praised U.S. fisheries policy that has “led to rebuilding of fish stocks and some of the most successful fisheries in the world.” He attributed this success to a variety of factors, including funding of NOAA, regionalizing fisheries management decisions, and requiring managers to follow science advice. As a result, overfishing should no longer be the top priority for fisheries managers, he testified.

“The major threats to U.S. fish stock and marine ecosystem biodiversity are now ocean acidification, warming temperatures, degraded coastal habitats, exotic species, land based run off, and pollution,” Dr. Hilborn testified. “Overfishing remains a concern for a limited number of stocks but should not continue to be the most important concern for U.S. federal fisheries policy.”

The hearing was the latest in a series examining reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s supreme fisheries law. It was organized by subcommittee chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and focused on fisheries science.

Originally posted: Saving Seafood Inc.

Oct 25 2017

Testimony of Ray Hilborn to U.S. Senate subcommittee

Testimony of Ray Hilborn to U.S. Senate subcommittee.



Subcommittee to Continue Hearing Series on Magnuson-Stevens Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, will convene the hearing titled “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Fisheries Science,” at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. The hearing is the fourth of the series and will focus on the state of our nation’s fisheries and the science that supports sustainable management.


– Mr. Karl Haflinger, Founder and President, Sea State, Inc
– Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
– Dr. Michael Jones, Professor, Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center
– Dr. Larry McKinney, Director, Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies

Hearing Details:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
2:30 p.m.
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard

This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on

Oct 23 2017

Professor has a message for Congress: Overfishing is over

Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter
Published: Monday, October 23, 2017
Ray Hilborn. Photo credit: University of Washington

Fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn. University of Washington


To his detractors, fisheries professor Ray Hilborn is an “overfishing denier,” a scientist who’s all too eager to accept money from industry groups to pay for his pro-fishing research.

To his backers, he’s a hero, a respected researcher who can always be counted on to challenge environmental groups that want to limit fishing.

Love him or hate him, there’s little doubt that the outspoken Hilborn has attained an international profile and that he has found a way to win big-time attention in fishing circles.

His next stop is Capitol Hill.

Tomorrow, Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, will appear before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation panel, getting another chance to argue his case that overfishing is no longer a concern for the United States.

He’s one of four experts scheduled to testify before the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

“What I’m going to say in my testimony is that overfishing is no longer the major threat to the sustainability of our oceans or biodiversity,” Hilborn said in an interview. “My first line on Tuesday is going to be that we have really fixed our fisheries by having fisheries management follow science advice — and if you stop doing that, you’re in trouble.”

Hilborn also said it’s time to stop “vilifying” fishing.

“I wrote the book on overfishing, called ‘Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know,’ by Oxford University Press,” Hilborn said. “You know, overfishing is a serious problem in many places. It’s not a very serious problem in the United States now. It was 30 years ago. … And the U.S. has responded, as has Europe. In most developed countries, fish stocks are increasing in abundance, they are not declining in abundance.”

The question of overfishing is a key focus for Congress as lawmakers consider making changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a law passed in 1976 that sets the rules for fishing in federal waters (E&E Daily, July 17).

Backers and opponents alike credit the landmark law for improving the health of U.S. fish stocks, though many worry the Trump administration has moved too quickly to allow more fishing.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA, heightened those concerns with two key decisions: In June, he extended the season for the Gulf red snapper by 39 days, and in July, he overturned a decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that would have cut New Jersey’s recreational quota for summer flounder, also known as fluke (Greenwire, Sept. 20).

Critics fear Ross’ decisions could lead to overfishing and jeopardize both fish stocks in the long run.

Meanwhile, the president’s fisheries chief, Chris Oliver, told a House Natural Resources panel last month that 91 percent of all fishing stocks assessed by NOAA are no longer subject to overfishing.

Oliver, the head of NOAA Fisheries, told the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans that the U.S. had “effectively ended overfishing,” allowing “room for flexibility” in applying annual catch limits (E&E Daily, Sept. 27).

Those are fighting words for many conservationists who worry the Trump team has already gone overboard in bowing to the demands of fishing groups.

“When they talk about flexibility, they’re really talking about rollbacks,” said John Hocevar, a marine biologist and ocean campaigns director for Greenpeace USA.
An ideal spokesman?

Hilborn has plenty of fans, but he has faced accusations of industry bias.

Last year, he won the International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress in Busan, South Korea, recognized for a 40-year-career of “highly diversified research” on behalf of global fisheries science and conservation.

“There aren’t many fisheries scientists in the country who can match Ray Hilborn,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “He’s the ideal spokesman for his field to educate Congress about how science informs fisheries management. Anyone who questions Ray’s professional or scientific integrity doesn’t understand how science works, at best.”

But a study by Greenpeace last year found that Hilborn accepted more than $3.55 million from 69 commercial fishing and seafood interests to pay for his research from 2003 to 2015.

“It seems like he uses his genuine scientific credentials to make himself more valuable to industry as a spokesperson,” said Hocevar. “On climate denial, there are a bunch of those guys. But with fisheries, Hilborn is the guy. … He’s the go-to, and there’s really no one else out there like him who will come out and talk about how we don’t need marine protected areas and how the real problem is underfishing, not overfishing.”

Greenpeace gained access to University of Washington documents that showed Hilborn’s long and extensive links to fishing, seafood and other corporate groups by filing a request under the state’s public records law.

After Greenpeace complained that Hilborn had not properly disclosed his affiliations in all his published papers, the university investigated the issue and concluded Hilborn had not violated any of its policies.

But Hocevar said the issue is still relevant.

“He took millions of dollars from industry. … And studies have shown that where you get your funding from does create bias in terms of findings,” Hocevar said.

Hilborn dismissed the criticism from Greenpeace.

“You know, they’re hopeless fundamentally,” he said. “They’re basically a money-raising organization, and they have to scare people to raise money. They’re not interested in science at all. … Greenpeace has sort of put its cards on the table that fishing is a big deal, and they’re not going to raise money if people don’t believe that fishing is a threat.”

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 2:30 p.m. in 253 Russell.

Witnesses: Karl Haflinger, founder and president, Sea State Inc.; Ray Hilborn, professor, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Michael Jones, professor, Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center; and Larry McKinney, director, Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

Originally published: E&E Daily

Oct 4 2017

California NGO Drops Out of Stakeholder Process, Sues State Over Whale Entanglements in Crab Fishery

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2017

Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Seafood News] by Susan Chambers – October 4, 2017


The Center for Biological Diversity has targeted the California Dungeness crab fishery by suing the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Tuesday.

The Center claims California crab fishery is causing the illegal “take” of whales and sea turtles.

Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act, the Center said in a press release, and the department is liable for causing these unlawful entanglements because it authorizes and manages operation of the fishery.

California Dungeness Crab fishermen were outraged at the lawsuit.  They said the Center should instead continue to be part of the multi-stakeholder process that is working on solutions to whale entanglements.

In a statement, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations said  “California crab fishermen and women take the health of the ocean incredibly seriously. Without a healthy ocean we simply cannot fish. This is why we do everything we can to avoid whales when we fish, and fishermen have risked life and limb to help whales escape in some of the rare instances in which they do become entangled.”

“This is also why commercial crab fishermen and women are already working hard together with an organized varsity team of state and federal scientists, environmental groups, and the professional marine mammal rescuers themselves to develop and implement best practices for our fishery. Our voluntary efforts are already working: entanglements are down 81% in 2017 and we are incredibly proud of this progress.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit is disappointing because it seems designed to divide rather than unite the very groups who are already committed and working hard to finding proactive solutions. This litigation may also end up diverting limited state resources away from developing practical solutions, safety and environmental enforcement at sea, and the sustainable management of our fisheries.”

The Center says the lawsuit seeks common-sense reforms to the fishery such as restricting the amount of gear in whale hotspots like Monterey Bay and reducing the amount of rope running through the water.

However, the lawsuit itself says the Center requests the court order the department to apply for an incidental take permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service — a process that may or may not consider the efforts so far by the state and industry to decrease whale entanglements.

“These tragic entanglements are happening in record-breaking numbers,” attorney Kristine Mondsell said in the press release. “That’s why we’ve had to sue to force California officials to finally take their responsibilities seriously.”  Yet CBD has not acknowleged that entanglements are down 81% in 2017.

The leading effort in California is the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, comprising fishermen, state and federal agency representatives and conservation groups. The Center for Biological Diversity also was a member for awhile until it disagreed with other participants and dropped out. Other groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Oceana continue to work with the state and industry on methods to decrease entanglements.

“This news should not deter the Working Group from continuing to move forward in your collective efforts,” CDFW Marine Region Manager Craig Shuman said in an email to the group’s participants and other state officials Tuesday. “We are encouraged by the Working Group’s progress to develop a Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP) and the steps that are being taken to test and evaluate the RAMP during the 2017-18 pilot.”

Fishermen are testing two electronic tools during the upcoming 2017-18 season, including eCatch, a phone/tablet-based application developed by The Nature Conservancy that logs fishing activity and GPS coordinates; and a solar logger device that passively collects fishing activity data. The industry and state also have updated a guide of best practices with methods designed to decrease whale entanglements; moved forward with a program to recover derelict gear; and participating in studies and training to minimize interactions.

The Center’s complaint relies on information to show that whale entanglements have increased in recent years. However, the Center does not point out that some whale populations have been increasing in recent years as well. Nor does it take into account changes in the crab fishery or gear distribution due to seasonal issues such as domoic acid. It also doesn’t identify how fishermen have been instrumental in helping disentangle whales, such as the one off of Crescent City, Calif., earlier this year.

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Sep 13 2017

California Acting Governor Gavin Newsom Requests Disaster Relief for Sardine, Urchin Fisheries

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2017

Seafood News


Sardine and sea urchin closures in California have prompted Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom to request fishery failure declarations for both.
Newsom noted in his Sept. 5 letters to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that ocean conditions caused the closure for sardines and affected the kelp forest ecosystems on which red urchins depend.

The California Wetfish Producers Association lauded Newsom’s request to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to approve a declaration of a commercial fishery failure for California’s Pacific sardine fishery. His action was precipitated by La Niña’s cold-water oceanic conditions that are believed to have caused sharply reduced sardine recruitment and the closure of this commercial fishery since 2015.

“This declaration is very important as it will enable California’s historic sardine fishery and its participants to seek federal disaster relief to offset the economic harm fishermen and processors have suffered since the fishery closure,” California Wetfish Producers Association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele said in a statement Tuesday.

The Pacific sardine fishery has been managed under the federal Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan (CPS FMP) since 2000. The CPS FMP established a harvest cutoff, prohibiting directed fishing if the sardine population falls below an estimated 150,000 metric tons. Due to low stock assessments, the fishery was closed in 2015 and 2016, and will remain closed in 2017 and possibly even 2018, although sardines have returned to abundance in the nearshore area, where fishing normally takes place.

Certain thresholds have been established that help the National Marine Fisheries Service and Secretary of Commerce make a determination of whether a commercial fishery failure has occurred. One of these involves an analysis of the economic impact and states that revenue losses greater than 80 percent are presumed to be a commercial fishery failure. This is determined by comparing the loss of 12-month revenue to average annual revenue in the most recent five-year period.

“This fishery is historically one of the top 10 highest valued commercial fisheries in California,” Newsom said in his letter regarding the iconic sardine fishery. “Statewide, the commercial closure in 2015 resulted in a total value of $343,148, which is 90 percent less than the 2010-14 average of $3,504,098. That dropped to $95,657 in 2016, which was 96 percent less than the 2011-15 average of $2,711,679.”

The figures for the urchin fishery, particularly in northern California and Orange County, were dire as well.
“The impacts to the regions are evident in the fishery landings data,” Newsom wrote. “In 2016, the northern California fishery ex-vessel revenue fell by 77 percent compared to the 5-year average from $2,587,419 to $604,440, Orange County ports fell by 93 percent from $85,382 to $6,045, and San Diego County ports fell by 48 percent from $574,526 to $297,594.”

Newsom’s letter noted the initial estimates for both fisheries are based on the average ex-vessel value of commercial landings but do not account for additional impacts to seafood processors or related industry businesses that rely on the either or both fisheries.

The sardine fishery is the foundation of California’s wetfish industry, which for decades has produced 80 percent or more of annual statewide commercial fishery landings, until recent years, the CWPA statement said. While fishermen and markets may harvest and process other species in the coastal pelagic species complex, sardines have been the historic mainstay of this industry, and the loss of fishing opportunity has created severe economic impact to both fishermen and processors.

The urchin fishery has been a staple for small-boat fishermen throughout the state for a number of years — until recently.
“Persistent warm ocean conditions that began in 2014 in northern California and 2015 in southern California has affected the fishery in these two regions,” Newsom’s letter said. “In northern California, the warm water event devastated kelp production (93 percent loss of surface kelp canopies compared to 2008 levels), a primary food source for urchins that created persistent starvation conditions. Starvation has led to reductions in the food value of the urchins targeted by the fishery in northern California.

In addition, a population explosion of the less marketable purple sea urchin continues to overgraze the recovering kelp beds, adding further stress to the fishery. In southern California, urchin mortality increased in response to warm El Nino conditions and disease in 2015. This has reduced the numbers of healthy red sea urchins in southern California available to the fishery.”

The Governor’s request for federal declaration now opens the door for fishermen and processors in California’s fisheries to pursue a federal disaster declaration from the Secretary of Commerce and appeal to California’s congressional delegation to pursue legislation allocating funding for disaster relief. Such funds would help alleviate the economic and social harm suffered as a result of these disasters.

Funds could also be used for cooperative research projects, Pleschner-Steele said, such as the collaborative aerial survey of the nearshore area that CWPA participates in with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in efforts to improve the accuracy of stock assessments.


Sep 7 2017

Sen Sullivan to NOAA: ‘Meaningful Changes’ Needed for Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments

September 6, 2017 (Saving Seafood) — In a letter last month to NOAA Acting Administrator Benjamin Friedman, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) called for “meaningful changes” to marine sanctuary and marine national monument designations, particularly in the form of greater stakeholder engagement.

In his letter, Sen. Sullivan, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, called the concept of marine sanctuaries and monuments “well-intentioned” but wrote that they had caused challenges for coastal communities across the country, including Alaska’s “robust commercial fishing industry.”

“Fisheries restrictions imposed outside of the process utilized by Regional Fishery Management Councils on these areas are problematic for the communities who rely on access to commercial fisheries,” Sen. Sullivan wrote.

Sen. Sullivan expressed concern that the National Marine Sanctuary Act, while requiring stakeholder engagement, does not require that this engagement be taken into consideration when designating a sanctuary. “This can lead to communities feeling betrayed by the agency when the established sanctuaries are unrecognizable to the localities who spent years working with NOAA to form a mutually beneficial designation and management structure,” he wrote.

Sen. Sullivan also called into question the process by which the president can unilaterally establish national monuments with no stakeholder consultation under the Antiquities Act. He criticized recent presidents for using the national monument process as a “political tool” to “limit access to economically viable resources.”

“This action is often taken at the request of non-affected parties such as environmental groups,” he wrote. “This is problematic when monuments are established without the use of best-available science, absent stakeholder engagement, and inattentive to the economic consequences for local communities.”

On August 24, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke completed a review of national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump. While Secretary Zinke’s full recommendations have not been made public, the AP reported that they include changes to a “handful” of monuments.


Download/Read the full letter here [PDF]



Jul 13 2017

What factors play a role in analyzing forage fish fishing regulation?

The interaction of predators, fishing and forage fish is more complicated than previously thought and that several factors must be considered, says researcher.

The group of researchers was evaluating the interaction after results from an earlier report found that fishing of forage species had a large effect on predator population, said the Marine Ingredients Organization (IFFO). Those harvested fish are used in several areas including as feed ingredients.

The new study was initiated because there were some questions regarding the methods used in the initial project, said Ray Hilborn, with the school of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington and corresponding author.

“When the original Lenfest [Forage Fish Task Force] report came out, a few of us said it seemed that the methods they were using were not up to the questions they were asking,” he told FeedNavigator. The report also offered several policy recommendations, he added.

“It was on our radar screen,” he said. “And one of the things I’ve been interested in looking at is the intensity of natural fluctuation in populations, and forage fish are notable for how much they vary naturally.”

The interaction between forage fish populations and predators is more complicated than may have been suggested by earlier studies tracking that relationship, and several factors need to be considered when analyzing the role that fishing plays on that relationship, he said. “The key point isn’t that there isn’t an impact, but that you have to argue case-by-case,” he added.

Several factors need to be considered when assessing the interaction among predators, forage species, and fishing of those forage species, the researchers said in their study. “We show that taking account of these factors generally tends to make the impact of fishing forage fish on their predators less than estimated from trophic models,” they added.

Study response

The results from Hilborn’s group have seen responses from groups including IFFO.

Previous research based on models suggested that forage fish were more valuable when left in the ocean and recommended reducing forage fish collection rates by 50% to 80%, said IFFO. However, the new paper presents an argument for a more case-by-case basis for management.

“For fisheries management, such a precautionary approach would have a large impact on the productivity of forage fisheries,” the organization said. “As groups such as IFFO have noted, these stocks contribute strongly to global food security, as well as local and regional social and economic sustainability.”

It is important that fisheries are managed with an effort to balance requirements from the ecosystem, coastal communities and human nutrition, IFFO said. The new results provide additional guidance and update conclusions from past reports.

“It is also well-established that forage fisheries provide substantial health benefits to human populations through the supply of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, both directly through consumption in the form of fish oil capsules, and indirectly through animal feed for farmed fish and land animals,” the organization said.

Study specifics

Fishing of low trophic or forage fish has generated interest in recent years, the researchers said. These fish include small pelagic fish, squid and juveniles of many species.

The evidence and theory suggest that fishing can limit the abundance of some fish stocks and can affect predators’ reproductive success by the density of their prey, they said.

“Although it would therefore seem obvious that fishing forage fish would have a negative effect on the abundance of their predators, the empirical relationships between forage fish abundance and predator abundance, or population rates of change, have not been examined in a systematic way,” they said.

In the study, the group examined 11 species of forage fish in the US, including what animals eat them and the role the species play in their predators’ diets, they said.

Species’ predators were identified, estimated fish abundance was analyzed and several models were fit to the data being assessed, they said. A simulation model also used information from fisheries regarding six different species of forage fish to evaluate the potential reduction in food for predators given a 5,000-year timespan.

“The question that they were asking is an important question, but to ask it properly you need to have analysis that includes the important biology,” said Hilborn of earlier evaluations. “We’re just doing a more detailed look at the biology, which you need to do to understand fishing forage fish and what happens to their predators.”

Research findings

The goal of the study was to identify the key factors that should be considered by analyzing the effect of fishing on forge fish, said the researchers. The group found, overall, that the models previously used were “frequently inadequate” for determining the role the fishing of forage fish plays on their predators.

“The most important feature that needs to be considered is the natural variability in forage fish population size,” they said. “Their abundance is highly variable even in the absence of fishing, and creditable analysis of the fishing impacts must consider how the extent of fishing-induced depletion compares with that of the natural variability.”

The research results did offer some unexpected results, said Hilborn.

“I was really surprised that we didn’t see any empirical data showing the relationship between predators and prey,” he said. “We only looked at American fisheries, but didn’t find at any correlation with fish and the predators.”

The majority of cases did not offer an obvious relationship between prey and predator abundance, the researchers said. The size of the fish eaten by predators may play a role.

“While some predators selectively eat small fish (usually not selected by the fishery), others prey on a large range of forage fish sizes,” they said. “The degree of overlap between fisheries and predators is highly variable.”

However, work on the subject is not complete, said Hilborn. Several groups of researchers interested in the area are addressing different elements of the analysis.

“We’re doing more detailed analysis of several of the components,” he said. “A more detailed model of specific places.”

The work includes looking more closely at the interaction of key predators and some of the larger forage fisheries around the world, he said. “I expect in some of these that we’re going to find some impact – overlap between what the fishery takes and the predator takes,” he added.

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Jun 15 2017

Controversial drift-gill net fishery wins long-fought battle

Federal fishery managers denied a proposal this week to immediately shut down Southern California’s most controversial fishery in the event that wide-mesh gill nets accidentally kill a handful of certain marine mammals or sea turtle species.

The swordfish and thresher shark fishery will remain open, even if it kills several whales or sea turtles, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries decided.

The decision not to institute so-called hard caps on the fishery comes after a public review period initiated last year was extended to discuss the law proposed by the state’s Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2014.

For the few dozen fishers who still catch swordfish and thresher sharks off Southern California in deep-water drift gill nets, the decision brought a big sigh of relief.

“It’s a great feeling to know that NOAA is using science and not political pressure to decide this issue,” said longtime local fisherman David Haworth. “We have just a few people fighting against millions of environmentalists who think taking one of anything is too many: That would be great, but we have to feed the whole world.”

The decision was a blow to Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and other conservation groups that have lobbied for years to close the fishery.

“We’re disappointed that NOAA Fisheries decided to abandon these plans. It’s a long time coming,” said Paul Shively, project director for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We did a poll (in 2015) that showed overwhelming support with Californians to shut down the fishery.

“This still remains the most harmful fishery on the West Coast when it comes to marine mammals and sea turtles.”

Existing protections working

The proposed hard caps would have forced a seasonal closure if gill nets killed two sea turtles or fin, humpback or sperm whales, or four short-fin pilot whales or bottlenose dolphin over a two-year period.

In 2015, 18 drift gill net vessels landed 66 metric tons of swordfish worth $454,000, according to a report by NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meanwhile, the U.S. imported 8,386 metric tons of the fish from other countries.

Fishers and National Marine Fisheries Service regulators say protections they’ve instituted since the mid-1990s, when drift gill nets were indiscriminately killing tons of marine animals, have come a long way.

“We increased our net size and that helped (reduce bycatch) a lot,” Haworth said. “What’s very discouraging for us right now is that most marine mammal species are on the increase now. They wanted to shut us down over animals that are doing better. So, it was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”

NOAA fishery biologist Jim Carretta, who specializes in creating marine mammal protections, said regulations implemented since the 1990s have greatly reduced gill net damage.

Gill nets are now made with wider mesh to allow larger animals to escape, and are placed 36 feet below the ocean’s surface to avoid marine mammal interaction. They also have acoustic pingers that divert dolphins and other species.

“If you have a bycatch problem, you don’t immediately shut down the entire fishery. You start examining what factors are driving the problem,” Carretta said. “We’ve had great success in reducing bycatch in this fishery. But it’s not going to go to zero.”

Regulators and fishers are also testing new technologies to bring additional protections for bycatch, such as a new deep-set buoy gear and electronic observers on boats to monitor catches.

State Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes much of the South Bay coast, proposed a bill last year that would hasten the use of deep-set buoy gear and ban gill nets. It remains in committee.

“We already have allowable take numbers for these marine mammals,” Carretta said. “The hard cap levels seemed arbitrary to me. They were not thoroughly steeped in the science behind calculating how much bycatch is sustainable.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act also continue to set protections for vulnerable marine animals that were hunted to near-extinction.

‘Redheaded stepchild of fishing’

Mike Conroy, president of West Coast Fisheries Consultants that represents fishers, said he believes the rule would have been overturned in the courts if it had passed.

“Twenty years ago, the drift gill net fishery was the Wild West, but I can’t even remember the last time a turtle was caught,” Conroy said. “(The proposed rule) probably wasn’t enforceable anyway.”

Gary Burke, a veteran drift gill net fisher, also said he hasn’t seen a sea turtle in years.

But Shively questioned whether environmentalists can rely on the word of fishers whose livelihood depends on keeping the fishery opened. He advocates for having observers on board every fishing boat to ensure they’re accurately reporting bycatch. Regulators say that’s not feasible.

“We’re been the redheaded stepchild of fishing,” Burke said. “All fisheries have bycatch. But we’ve done great jobs to limit what we can. We are going to have some, but the question is whether we’re killing too many. That’s why NOAA takes estimates and decides how many can be removed to maintain healthy populations.”

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Jun 13 2017

Trump administration overturns rule limiting by-catch of whales, sea turtles and dolphins

The Trump administration decided Monday to withdraw an Obama-era rule limiting the number of whales, sea turtles and dolphins inadvertently caught in nets used by sword fishermen.

At first glance, the decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appears to be part of a pattern by administration officials of overturning or delaying rules that are deemed too burdensome on industry. Federal officials say they moved to scrap the rule based in part on how costly the new rule would have been to fishermen. But they also say it was redundant and not backed by science.

The rule, which was still in the process of being developed, would have set firm limits on the number of sea turtles, whales and dolphins that could be accidentally snared in drift nets. If more than two to four animals became entangled, the entire West Coast sword fishery would be shut down for up to two years.

Part of the problem is the method fishermen use to catch swordfish: long, mesh nets that hang in the water from floats. In the early 1990s, up to 500 dolphins a year were getting tangled in the nets, according to NOAA. Thirty-three beaked whales, so-called because of their long, narrow snouts, got stuck between 1990 and 1996.

In response, California banned drift gillnets in state waters in 1990. Six years later, NOAA convened the Take Reduction Team, a group of scientists, academics, environmentalists and fishermen to try to solve the problem in federal waters.

The team decided fishermen should use “pingers,” baton-like devices that hang from the nets and emit a high-frequency noise only detectable by marine mammals, not fish.

The results were dramatic: after 1996, no beaked whales got stuck. In 2015, less than 50 dolphins were entangled. The numbers declined for other species, too.

But the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is a similar stakeholder group to the Take Reduction Team and makes fishery management recommendations to NOAA, wanted to go further. The group, which is also made up of a mix of fisherman, scientists, government officials and academics, voted to put into place strict limits on bycatch and recommended NOAA create a new regulation, which the agency began working on in the final months of the Obama administration.

“We should not be killing any” marine mammals, said Geoff Shester, a senior scientist at the advocacy group Oceana, which is not part of the council but supported the proposed rule. He said he was “furious” when he found out NOAA had decided to abandon the rule, especially because it had been crafted with industry support.

“We don’t usually see politics from a high level affect fisheries,” he said. “The fact that this rule was something that came out of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and was denied, that’s highly unusual.”

But NOAA officials say their decision had nothing to do with politics. Jim Carretta, a research fishery biologist for NOAA in La Jolla, said he was happy to see the rule pulled because he thought the limits that the council set on by-catch were arbitrary.

“They didn’t seem to be informed by the theoretical underpinnings of how marine mammal populations increase and recover,” he said.

He also said the rule was unnecessary, given the progress the Take Reduction Team has had at reducing by-catch.

Finally, he thought the consequence for inadvertently catching just two to four whales, dolphins or sea turtles – the closure of the fishery – was too severe.

“Nobody likes by-catch. No one ever wants to see a dead dolphin. But one always has to put it in the context of the population as a whole,” Carretta said.

In other words, he said if the number of dolphins inadvertently snared isn’t enough to threaten the population as a whole, and allowing fishing will keep fishermen employed, it’s OK.

David Haworth, a sword fisherman from San Diego, agrees. “It upset me they were going to shut down fisheries over one or two marine mammals,” he said. “If we were harming an endangered species, we should not fish, we should shut down.” But the rule, he said, went way beyond that.

Currently, there are just 16 boats that go out each year to catch sword fish – down from over 200 in the 1980s. Haworth says the fish just aren’t there any more — they’ve moved up the coast into areas where sword fishing is even more restricted than it is off the coast of Southern California.

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