Management Measures Result in Rebuilding in Three Stocks;
More Information Needed on Silver Hake
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SDanvers, MA-- Scientists reported today on the status of four Northeastern marine fish and shellfish stocks. Fishery management measures first instituted in the mid-1990s have resulted in measurable rebuilding in three stocks–Gulf of Maine haddock, sea scallops, and American plaice. More information on harvesting and discards of silver hake is needed if scientists are to improve knowledge used to manage the stock.
"I am particularly optimistic about sea scallop improvements," says Patricia Kurkul, NOAA Fisheries regional administrator for the Northeast. NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency charged with building sustainable fisheries in the nation's ocean.
Said Kurkul, "We have detailed information about sea scallop commercial fishing effort, and an unusually precise picture of stock status and biology. As a result, fishing rules can allow increased harvest without damaging rebuilding. It is clear that planned openings and closures can maintain a relatively high abundance of harvestable sea scallops, and we ought to continue to use them," she said.
The findings were reported today at a regular meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, the body that devises regional management plans for fisheries in this region's federal waters. The scientific report is a product of the 32rd meeting of the Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC), the scientific body convened regularly since 1985 to peer-review fish stock status analyses and produce scientific advice used by fishery managers in the Northeast.
"Good survivorship of eggs to the young adult stage of growth, or ‘recruitment,' is also critical during rebuilding," says Dr. Terry Smith of NOAA Fisheries, who organizes the regional SARC meeting. "The sea scallop stock has improved by virtually all measures, including the number young scallops that will be ready for harvest in a year or so. By comparison, the spawning stocks for many northeast groundfish species have also improved since introduction of the recovery plan. Those with better recruitment, however, are rebuilding more rapidly and providing more opportunities for harvest than those that are not," he said.
The review panel noted that the spawning population of American plaice, a flatfish found in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank, is continuing to rise, and is approximately half the size of that expected in a rebuilt population. Also, there appears to be a near doubling of young fish in the population in 1997 and 1998, providing an excellent opportunity to accelerate stock rebuilding. The review panel noted that to maximize benefits, managers should continue rules to keep fishing removals low and reduce the unintentional harvest of these flatfish.
The panel reports that sea scallop biomass has increased recently in all areas, particularly in those closed to scalloping; and that recruitment has been high, with what appears to be a record level for the Georges Bank stock. The reviewers caution that fishing effort should be restrained on the Mid-Atlantic portion of the stock to prevent overfishing, and that concentrations of the youngest scallops should be protected with closures while they grow.
The sea scallop fishery is moving toward using systematic openings and closures that will rotate fishing effort onto mature sea scallop beds while allowing other beds to grow. The panel noted that this may mean changing the way stock status is reviewed, since the present method averages the effect of harvest across the entire stock.
Gulf of Maine haddock were depleted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the present population concentrated at the core of its historical range in a portion of the western Gulf of Maine. The review panel reported that while the overall population is low, there is continued dramatic growth, and some indications of continuing good recruitment in the stock. They note that if the present year-round area closure in the Western Gulf of Maine is extended, it would help protect these gains.
The SARC also reviewed the status of silver hake, which are divided into a northern and a southern component off the northeastern U.S. The panel provided a general picture of the stocks' condition. The northern stock has not been heavily fished, but the southern stock has, particularly by international fleets during the 1960s and 1970s. The southern stock accounts at present for about 20% of the total population, and the northern stock for the remaining 80%. This distribution has changed over time, but it is not possible to determine the relative effects of fishing, sampling bias, and changes in ocean conditions. The panel recommends that harvest of the southern stock be curtailed and that a more accurate picture of fishery discards be obtained.
The Stock Assessment Review Committee Reports are one part of the information used by scientists and managers to describe the status of fish and shellfish stocks and to build sustainable fisheries. The New England Management Council has responsibility for developing fishery management plans for all the species in the report issued today.