The challenges of fish management are changing – Trade only today


In 2019, the world’s oceans took a dubious step forward.

According to two major sources, the National Environmental Information Centers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Beijing Institute for Atmospheric Physics, the world’s oceans are warmer than they have been in 65 years of recording . And, according to nonprofit Climate Central research, warming waters are testing marine life in both saltwater and freshwater environments.

The South Atlantic Council defines the management of Spanish mackerel from the Florida Keys to New York. However, the migratory species is increasingly present off New England.

States can react quickly to excessive heat and conditions; New York State and Montana, for example, have restricted or suspended targeting of certain species under excessive stress from drought or extreme heat.

But federal fisheries management is more complicated. Not only are different regions fighting for control of declining species, but the complexity of the ocean ecosystem makes it difficult to obtain complete and accurate data. Scientists may lack data on the physical effects of water temperature, currents and overfishing, as well as biological challenges such as changing food sources, competition, predators and invasive species, explains Greg Stunz, professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University and director of the Center for the Science and Conservation of Sporting Fish.

“Our management system isn’t really designed to manage ecosystems,” says Stunz. “It’s quite complex. No one disputes that this is how the fishery should be managed, but basically what does it mean and how do we do it? “

Challenges in data collection

A 2018 NOAA fisheries study found that many species in coastal U.S. waters are expected to move north and further offshore as temperatures continue to rise. A National Academy of Sciences study predicted that the total mass of marine life would decrease by 5% for every 1.8 degrees of temperature increase.

These types of changes are not what the current system is designed to do.

“We have put in place a structure for evaluating fisheries management by region, even at the federal or state level,” says Tom Frazer, director of natural resources and the environment at the University of Florida and Scientific Director of the State of Florida. The nature of this management structure does not adapt well to a dynamic of changing distribution of fish populations. In the future, it will be really important from a management point of view to have more communication.

Species migration has been a challenge to manage for some time, says John Quinn, president of the New England Fisheries Council. The waters off the New England coast have warmed more than any other coastal area in the United States – up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901, according to a 2019 Climate Central analysis of federal ocean data.

The Northeastern American Shelf could see some of the most extreme increases as global ocean temperatures continue to rise, according to a study funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and NOAA. This study also predicted substantial changes in the productivity of regional fisheries – changes that do not always show up in the data quickly enough to take action.

“The way fisheries are managed at the federal level is a participatory process,” says Frazer. “There is an opportunity for a lot of public comment and audiences. It’s an iterative process, so by the time you come to an assessment of what the state of the stock might be, things might have changed a bit.

Many recreational fishermen release fish before they reach their quota to conserve the resource.

Many recreational fishermen release fish before they reach their quota to conserve the resource.

Changing borders

Local, national, regional and international fisheries are “considerably under-prepared” for the geographic changes that climate change will bring to marine animals in the coming decades, according to a report by researchers including Malin Pinsky, associate professor in the department of Rutgers University Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, and Fellow of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

Lack of preparation, along with the displacement of stocks, can lead to conflict between nations as well as states – and the decimation of a species. For example, the blue tiles were historically captured and managed south of the Virginia-North Carolina border. When the fish moved north, according to the report, “a fishery exploited the stock for almost a decade without regulation. This situation only changed in 2015 with the emergency rules of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Similar situations could evolve with all kinds of species. For example, the South Atlantic Council sets management policy for dolphins and wahoos along the entire Atlantic coast, with input from members of the Mid-Atlantic and New England Councils. The South Atlantic Council defines the management of the king and spanish mackerel of the Florida Keys in New York, with input from the Mid Atlantic Council.

If a species appears beyond the designated boundaries, the current council in charge would not be able to protect the species. Other boards should decide whether they want to have a joint plan or let one board have primary authority.

Species on the move

About a year ago, a delegation from the New England council met with members of the Central and South Atlantic councils to discuss how to manage the changes, Quinn said. Even with this type of communication, changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction can take a long time. For example, a recent change in the trade allocation of winter flounder took four years. Mixed-use fisheries (species targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen) may be even more challenged.

“It’s a work in progress,” Quinn says of the system. “As these reports come out – there is clearly this shift north – we need to reorganize the management structure, but this is something that has been in place for over 40 years. Permits have been bought and sold, and coastal infrastructure has been built depending on the species you land. It will take some time to resolve.

And as collaboration has grown in stock management between regional science centers and management entities, “there are no easy answers,” Quinn adds. “You push one end, and it pushes on the other end.”

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Board are both considering changes to address the stocks, said Spud Woodward, a biologist who has spent 34 years managing the fisheries for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources before serving on the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Board. . For example, the commission will examine the advisability of extending management measures for Spanish mackerel to the New England region.

“The question will be whether the northernmost fish belong to the same stock as the southernmost fish,” says Woodward.

The board also plans to add representation from the Mid-Atlantic region to the Dolphin-Wahoo Fishery Advisory Panel, given the increasing occurrence and importance of these species northward, Woodward said.

We need to reorganize the management structure, but this is something that has been in place for over 40 years. Permits have been bought and sold, and coastal infrastructure has been built depending on the species you land. It will take some time to resolve. – John Quinn, President New England Fisheries Council

Meanwhile, in Texas, the focus is on the southern plaice population. It’s drastically declining, Stunz says, likely because of overfishing and because the cold winters needed for hatching and egg laying no longer occur in Texas.

“It decreases the abundance of plaice because we don’t have babies coming in, but the adults are still being taken out,” says Stunz. “How do you deal with this? You can lower the size limits, but if there isn’t a successful respawn, you can’t handle this. On the other hand, the mangrove snapper – these never existed here, and now they are targeted fisheries. “

Experts say the Gulf of Mexico plaice had less productive egg-laying due to warmer winters.

Experts say the Gulf of Mexico plaice had less productive egg-laying due to warmer winters.

Ecosystem approach

The current system requires that fish species be managed where they are found, Stunz says. Today it’s about a more ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, he says, “because the more information you can incorporate into your assessment and allocation decisions, the better. “

Fisheries managers want to be able to use and control all available information to make informed policy decisions. Climate change adds another layer of complexity to this task.

“I hope we will continue to improve in this area,” says Stunz. “The tools are getting more and more sophisticated, and the movement is certainly to be more comprehensive in our approach to fisheries management. “

Investing in new technology is crucial, he adds, because if the data is weak, managers create more cushion in the allocation, Stunz says.

“When you have more confidence in yourself, you can relax the buffer that you might impose in a regulatory environment,” he says. “If you do that, you can enable people to harvest or access more fish, which in turn generates more economic benefits. It is important for people to realize that in order to make money you have to invest money. An investment in data collection can generate huge economic benefits.

For fishermen, the result is likely to be more of a need for understanding and flexibility.

“The patterns of fish distribution are going to change, and that will have implications for how you allocate fisheries,” Stunz said. “It’s just a reality of where I think we’re going.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue.

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