Friday, April 17, 2015

U.S. fisheries improving. And `ahi? Yep, go ahead and enjoy.

It may be ethically safe to eat ocean fish again.

You’ll hear a lot of breathless reporting about the miserable condition of our ocean fisheries, and you don’t see a lot of good news about fisheries, but several decades of science-based management are having an impact.

(Image: Hawaiian `ahi, or yellowfin tuna, have a healthy population and appear to be fished sustainably. Credit: NOAA NMFS.)

Many of the most heavily fished species, after years of regulation, have recovered, NOAA reports—good news for the fish, but also for the concept of regulation by organizations like the U.S. regional fishery management agencies.

NOAA in its 2014 report to Congress on the status of fisheries, has taken a bunch of fish stocks off the overfished and overfishing lists. The number of fisheries on those lists is at an all-time low.

Of fisheries previously on those lists, 37 have been removed since 2000.

NOAA’s press release on the report is here.

The Status of U.S. Stocks 2014 report to Congress  is here

Like butterfish in your laulau? The East Coast butterfish fishery is among those that have recovered.

So has Atlantic Bluefin tuna—the prized sashimi fish that can bring tens of thousands of dollars per fish at fish auctions in Japan.

NOAA says that of the 469 U.S. fishery stocks that are managed, at the end of last year just 26 stocks were on the overfishing list and 37 stocks were on the overfished list. Both lists are at all-time lows. 

The terminology calls for a little clarification. Overfished means the population has declined significantly and is too low to continue to produce what regulators call its maximum sustainable yield. Overfishing means the catch rate is too high to keep producing its maximum sustainable yield, although the population may not yet be worrisomely low

It’s not only fishing that can create an “overfished” condition: “As a population size, overfished can be the result of many factors, including overfishing, and also habitat degradation, pollution, climate change, and disease. While overfishing is sometimes the main cause of an overfished stock, these other factors can also play a role and may affect the stock’s ability to rebuild,” the NOAA report says.

Still at some level, there’s little U.S. fishery regulators can do about overfishing by non-U.S. fleets.

“NOAA Fisheries has limited ability to control overfishing of international stocks because they are fished in international waters and they are exempt from ACL requirements.” ACL is the acronym for the annual catch limits that have been used to protect fisheries from overfishing by American fishing fleets.

In the Pacific, there are still some problems, though not nearly as many as in the Atlantic. The report has Pacific Bluefin and bigeye tuna on the overfishing list. Pacific Bluefin are also on the overfished list. Striped marlin are on both lists in the Central Western Pacific, as are groundfish on Hancock Seamount.

Both Bluefin and the striped marlin in the Pacific are impacted by unregulated fishing by international fleets, the report says.

This is not to say there aren't still problems. West Coast sardines have declined precipitously, and NOAA expects to require an early closure of the sardine fishery to protect them. Is it fishing that did it? Perhaps not, says the New York Times: "The reasons are not well-understood, though it is widely accepted that huge population swings are natural and generally are related to water temperatures."

But there's a bit of good news for our part of the world: In Hawai`i, if someone offers you some yellowfin tuna, or `ahi, go ahead and enjoy it. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council says the `ahi fishery appears to enjoy a healthy population, although there are efforts underway to change regulations to ensure it stays that way. 

There’s a 23-minute video on the importance of `ahi to Hawai`i. It’s at Vimeo, and was produced by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.  

An interesting thing about `ahi, according to the folks filmed in the video, is that new research suggests it seems to be a “local” tuna. There’s a lot still not known about `ahi, but it may not be as highly migratory as many other tuna species. It does, however, still get listed as a highly migratory species.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

1 comment:

Brian Funai said...

Thank you for putting this information forward in a concise and simple form for those not familiar with the issues and terminology. One thing was pointed out to me as I shared your article was that the black cod or "butterfish" that we eat here comes from primarily from Alaska and not the East Coast.