Saturday, March 08, 2008

New Report Criticizes Fishery Management Council for Failing to End Overfishing

Today (3/4/08) , the Marine Fish Conservation Network released an annual review of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s performance in 2007. The report provides the general public with an accounting of the council’s management of publicly-owned marine fish resources in federal waters of the South Atlantic region (NC, SC, GA, east coast of FL). The report’s primary finding is that the council failed to end overfishing on several important fish stocks. The council meets this week in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

“NMFS and the Council have allowed several species to be chronically over-harvested for the last decade,” said Sera Harold Drevenak, regional representative for the Network. “The council has a golden opportunity this week to turn around this mismanagement and restore fish populations and fishing opportunities.” The council takes up crucial issues of setting catch levels for gag grouper and vermilion snapper at this week’s meeting. Scientists have warned the council that it needs to make drastic cuts to the harvest of both species to end overfishing and finally set these species on the path to sustainability.

The report also documents the council’s failure to quickly restore overfished populations, resulting in dangerously low levels of species like snowy grouper. “What we’d like to see this council do is end overfishing of these species immediately, so that stocks can rebound as quickly as possible and provide the kind of healthy ocean, healthy fishery, and healthy economy we all want to see in the South Atlantic,” said Libby Fetherston of Ocean Conservancy. The Council has called for more scientific analysis, in the hopes that the vermilion snapper cuts will not be as severe. Vermilion snapper is not alone, however, and many snapper and grouper species are known to be in trouble, Unless the Council can address issues such as overfishing, high levels of wasteful discards and habitat damage, these species will continue to decline, and fishing communities will continue to pay the price.

The report also notes the need for additional federal funding to support improvements in future management, specifically to reduce wasteful fishing and improve understanding of all the fish species the council manages. For example, fully 64% of the fish species managed by the council are unassessed, meaning managers and the public do not know if those species are in healthy shape or not. “Data collection is not a sexy issue, but for proper management of our oceans, it is critical that Congress increase federal funding for fisheries management,” said Jason Schratwieser of International Game Fish Association. Congress is currently considering a Presidential budget request which includes an increase of $8.5 million for additional species assessments.
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