Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released its annual report detailing progress toward ending overfishing and recovering overfished stocks. Each year, NMFS reports on the number of stocks where overfishing is occurring (mortality is above sustainable levels), the number of stocks that are overfished (populations have not yet recovered from past overfishing), and the number of stocks that are no longer depleted, or are considered “rebuilt.” In 2012, NMFS reported continued progress, which is good news in light of controversial decisions to follow scientific recommendations to further cut quotas of key New England stocks. According to the report, ten stocks are no longer subject to overfishing, including short-fin mako, Caribbean grouper, and Gulf of Mexico red snapper. Additionally, six stocks are now considered “rebuilt,” including southern Tanner crabs, Washington coast Coho salmon, south Atlantic pink shrimp, and southern New England/Mid-Atlantic windowpane and yellowtail flounder.
While we are encouraged by any evidence of progress toward ending overfishing and rebuilding overfished stocks, it is important to remember that significant work remains before fishing practices will be fully sustainable in the United States. While NMFS is proud that only 10% of stocks in the United States are being overfished, this statistic does not include stocks whose abundance and fishing mortality remain unknown. We still do not even have adequate information on half of the 446 federally-managed stocks to determine if they are being overfished. In order to fully understand and minimize the impacts of fishing activities on these stocks, bycatch must be accurately recorded and reported in each of the fisheries where they are caught and discarded. Based on the status of the population and the stock’s ability to withstand fishing mortality, science-based limits on bycatch must be established and enforced.
While we are eager for stocks to recover and show signs of rebuilding, the information that forms the foundation of these status determinations (catch, bycatch, species abundance, and natural fluctuations) are fraught with uncertainty and large statistical variation, highlighting the importance of adopting a precautionary approach when setting catch limits and other management measures. Oceana will continue to advocate for ongoing research funding, enhanced observer coverage, and science-based catch and bycatch limits that will help improve the state of fisheries in the U.S.