Signs pointing to cause for grave concern met with proposal to up commercial harvest
After hearing a litany of significant concerns about the health of the striped bass population presented by its own Technical Committee and by law enforcement personnel, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Striped Bass Management Board did the last thing anyone expected at its meeting last week – directing staff to draft an addendum to the management plan which would increase the coastal commercial striped bass harvest.
The stunning turn of events left conservationists shocked at the Board’s apparent disregard for strong evidence pointing to numerous problems with the Atlantic striped bass population. Unlike the 1970s when rampant overfishing was the primary cause of the stock’s crash, the current picture painted by scientists and officers is all the more bleak because of the wide variety of factors that are negatively impacting striped bass.
“This is just the latest indication that the ASMFC has lost its way as an agency committed to proper resource management,” said Charles Witek, chairman of CCA’s Atlantic Fisheries Committee. “As bad off as the stock was in the late ‘70s, the fix was rather straight-forward. What we are looking at today could be much more difficult to reverse. The very last thing anyone needs to discuss during this time of uncertainty is increasing commercial harvest.”
Among the information presented to managers was a report on the declining trend in the striped bass Juvenile Abundance Index, a report from law enforcement personnel on suspected “significant and unreported” poaching in the Exclusive Economic Zone, and a report on the potentially devastating impact of Mycobacteriosis in Chesapeake Bay, the primary striped bass spawning ground for the entire Atlantic Coast, where 70 percent of the fish sampled had lesions associated with the disease. In aquaculture, Mycobacteriosis infections are virtually always fatal, and since infected striped bass that are tagged and subsequently recovered never show any signs of recovery, the disease has dire implications for striped bass everywhere on the coast.
Such reports by fisheries professionals, viewed with the well-documented decline in spawning stock abundance and decreasing recreational harvest at the northern end of the striped bass’ range, paint a troubling picture of the species’ future.
“This stock has problems mounting on all fronts, and managers seem content to wring everything they can from it before the party ends,” said Richen Brame, CCA’s Atlantic Fisheries director. “This is not the stance anglers have come to expect from the same commission that was widely credited with making the hard decisions needed to save striped bass just over three decades ago. They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and that is a road anglers don’t want to go down again.”
Tags: ASMFC, commercial harvest, striped bass
Posted in CCA Atlantic States | 3 Comments »
CCA Oregon response to Obama salmon recovery plan
September 15, 2009
It is ironic that Oregon strives to be a leader in sustainability, yet we continue to subject our wild salmon runs to unsustainable harvest practices that are pushing the fish toward extinction.
Each year taxpayers, electric utility rate payers and others collectively contribute about $1 billion to salmon recovery efforts, yet more than half of our region’s salmon and steelhead runs are extinct. And while the Obama administration should be applauded for shining a light on salmon recovery efforts, that light is focused in the wrong direction.
There is a reason we have not moved the dial on recovery, or achieved better results from hatchery reform, hydro practices and habitat improvements; it is the way we harvest – and continually over-harvest – our fish. Currently, the commercial fishing gear used in the Columbia River and elsewhere (gillnets) is non-selective and kills large numbers of ESA-listed and wild salmon and steelhead. Gillnets are designed to entangle fish in the nets, leading to suffocation and death before selection is possible. All marine life that gets caught in a gillnet dies, from salmon and steelhead to seals and seabirds. Ironically Oregon, a “green” state, is one of the few places in the country to still allow gillnets.
We have the ability to restore our runs — and our fishing economy — by changing our harvest practices.
There was a time when Oregon used sustainable harvest practices — you can still see the remnants of old wooden fish weirs in the Columbia today — but the forms of commercial fishing gear capable of the live capture, selection and release of wild fish, known as selective harvest (seines, pound nets, fish traps), are currently illegal in our state. However, there is a silver lining.
Our neighbors to the North, with whom we share a vital river, are testing alternative methods of commercial fishing gear. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting selective gear tests on the lower Columbia River this fall. The goal is to find an efficient harvest method that allows for the live sorting of wild and hatchery fish, enabling wild fish to be released unharmed.
Programs that advance the selective commercial harvest of a dwindling resource are the kind of efforts the Obama administration should support. Implementing the use of selective gear is an effective, achievable way to create a sustainable fishery for all stakeholders – both recreational and commercial – a solution that is supported by science. And, it opens the door to providing a greater return on the investment that taxpayers are contributing to salmon recovery.
Timothy Egan of The New York Times once remarked that, “In the Northwest, a river without a salmon is a body without a soul.” The drive for new harvest methods is not about dividing up dwindling runs between recreational and commercial anglers or curtailing commercial fishing. It is about preserving the future, or in Egan’s words, the soul of our region. Implementing selective harvest methods would allow all stakeholders, including the fish, to enjoy a much larger return on the billion-dollar investment we are making in recovery. If Oregon hopes to remain a leader in sustainability, the state needs to apply those same principles to our fisheries.
Bryan Irwin is the Executive Director for the Coastal Conservation Association in the Pacific Northwest. CCA is the largest non-profit marine conservation organization in the country.
Tags: columbia river, commercial harvest, gliinets, salmon recovery plan
Posted in CCA Pacific Northwest | No Comments »