The oceans are heating up, and marine ecosystems are changing because of it. Long before climate scientists realized the extent of impacts from carbon dioxide emissions, ocean scientists were taking simple temperature readings. Now those readings are off the charts, showing an ocean thrown out of balance from human-caused climate change. Sea surface temperatures hit a 150 year high off the U.S. East Coast from Maine to North Carolina during 2012.
These abnormally high temperatures are fundamentally altering marine ecosystems, from the abundance of plankton to the movement of fish and whales. Many marine species have specific time periods for spawning, migration, and birthing based on temperature signals and availability of prey. Kevin Friedland, a scientist in NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Ecosystem Assessment Program, said “Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature.”
Bycatch is a word that is thrown around a lot in the fishing industry, but when a trawler is throwing away half the fish it catches, somehow “bycatch” doesn’t seem to adequately capture the scope of the problem. It’s that sort of scale of waste that is described in a troubling new report by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The report claims that 156 million pounds of fish were discarded by fishing ships in the Northeast last year.
“156 million pounds of bycatch in the Northeast equals jobs lost and meals wasted,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative at Oceana. “What is bycatch to one fishery is often targeted catch to another. Take skates for example, which are a common bycatch species in the lucrative scallop fishery. Nearly 75 percent of the 101 million pounds of skates that were caught were discarded while New England skate fishermen struggle to increase their quotas.”
Amazingly, the NMFS report also found that no information is being collected about bycatch in more than half of the fishing fleets from North Carolina to Maine.
And fishermen are often the first to feel the effects of these reckless practices. Last week the fisheries of the Northeast U.S. were declared a disaster by the federal government and crashes in the region’s storied cod, haddock and flounder fisheries have led regulators to impose drastic cuts for 2013. What got us here? Insufficient data about bycatch which led to inaccurate fish stock assessments. While regulators waited for the fisheries to rebuild, the silent and unaccounted for catch of millions of pounds of discarded fish had been gutting stocks to unsustainable levels.
Oceana works tirelessly advocating for the reduction of bycatch. Only by counting every fish, and by setting catch limits at sustainable levels can we ensure the future of our fisheries.