Five species of critically endangered sharks have been granted additional protection at the Citesmeeting held this week in Bangkok. The oceanic whitetip, three species of hammerhead, and the porbeagle are all at risk from fishing for their fins. Cites voted to upgrade these species to Appendix 2, which regulates their trade by requiring licenses for exports and imports and introducing sanctions for excessive harvests. Scientists and conservationists lauded the decision as a historic moment for shark conservation. The measures also cover two species of manta rays.
Hearings on the Magnuson-Stevens Act began this week in anticipation of the 2016 deadline for reauthorization of the fisheries conservation legislation. The hearing on Wednesday featured witnesses including John Pappalardo, the CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, and Sam Rauch, a Deputy Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. In New England,the debate has been characterized by the difference in opinion between Congressman Ed Markey, who believes the rebuilding requirements in the act already have enough flexibility, and Congressman John Tierney, who has advocated for more lenient deadlines for rebuilding depleted stocks. Pushes for improvements to fisheries science are also expected. Concurrent with the first hearing, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report indicating that 64% of once overfished stocks have made significant progress under the act, with revenues increasing 92% ($585 million) for rebuilt stocks. The report noted mixed progress for New England’s groundfish species.
Scientists are concerned over rapid warming and ocean acidification in the Gulf of Maine, according to an article published in the Portland Press-Herald this week. Measurements indicate that coastal waters may be acidifying at a rate three times faster than the open ocean. The process has the potential to harm shellfish and fish larvae and reduce populations of plankton that form the basis of the food chain for all marine species, and warmer waters could contribute to lower oxygen concentrations that would create inhospitable conditions for many animals. Warmer waters are also linked to shell disease that decimated lobster fisheries in southern New England in the 1980s.
UConn environmental history professor and New England Fishery Management Council member Matthew McKenzie recounted December 20th, when the Council decided to dramatically cut cod catch limits in response to dire stock assessments. He noted that nearly all parties were in agreement about the utter lack of fish, commented on the long history of decline in New England’s cod stocks, and acknowledged the difficulty of simultaneously managing the full suite of groundfish species. Although there has been some wiggle room in regulations for the last 30 years, he said, that opportunity has now passed and difficult decisions are unavoidable.
The groundfish committee of the New England Fishery Management Council met on Wednesday to resume discussion of Amendment 18, a suite of measures to reduce consolidation and protect fleet diversity in the New England groundfish fleet. The measures will likely include caps on quota accumulation, and the committee will begin by refining a set of goals voted on in 2010 before introducing them to the Council next month.