NOAA Fisheries 2014 Status of Stocks report reveals lowest-ever number of threatened fish stocks

By on May 8, 2015
The Cape Hatteras butterfish stock was once overfished but has since recovered to a sustainable population size. (Credit: NOAA)

Amid a sea of cynicism surrounding the state of the world’s oceans and the decline of their inhabitants, the most recent fishery sustainability report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries division comes as a breath of fresh air — or, perhaps, a gulp of clean water.

The NOAA Fisheries’ Status of Stocks 2014 report reveals that the number of fish stocks threatened by overfishing are at an all-time low, and continue to decline. Tracking 469 stocks managed under 46 fishery plans, the report suggests that U.S. fishery laws are creating ecological and economic sustainability, and showcases the successes of rebuilt fishery stocks.

This year, NOAA Fisheries removed six stocks from its overfishing list, indicating that these stocks no longer suffer from excessive catch rates: southern Atlantic snowy and gag groupers; North Atlantic albacore; Jacks complex and haddock in the gulfs of Mexico and Maine, respectively; and Bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic. The albacore and gag grouper stocks were also removed from the overfished list, which identifies stocks reduced to too small of a population size.

The gag grouper may just be the VIP of this year’s Status of Stocks, as NOAA Fisheries declared it one of three stocks rebuilt in 2014. The fisheries agency defines a rebuilt stock as a stock that was once overfished but has increased to a size capable of supporting “maximum sustainable yield.” Cape Hatteras butterfish and mid-Atlantic golden tilefish were also rebuilt this year, bringing NOAA’s total to 37 rebuilt marine stocks since 2000.

“This report illustrates that the science-based management process under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working to end overfishing and rebuild stocks,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA Fisheries administrator, in a press release. “While we have made tremendous progress, we know there’s more work to be done — especially as we continue to document changes to our world’s oceans and ecosystems.”

The Gulf of Mexico gag grouper was one of three stocks declared rebuilt by the 2014 Status of Stocks report. (Credit: NOAA)

The Gulf of Mexico gag grouper was one of three stocks declared rebuilt by the 2014 Status of Stocks report. (Credit: NOAA)

Despite the apparent success of NOAA Fisheries’ sustainability efforts, some anglers and politicians have suggested that the Magnuson-Stevens Act that provides the framework for U.S. fisheries law is too inflexible, and negatively affects fishing in regions of the country that lack the scientific data necessary to manage properly under its rules.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced a bill in May that would renew the act while making several changes, granting fishery managers greater flexibility to manage fish stocks while considering commercial anglers’ economic needs. But opponents to the revisionary bill say it weakens the catch limits that have allowed NOAA Fisheries to rebuild and protect fish stocks from exploitation.

It’s worth noting that the fisheries in Rep. Young’s state are among the best-managed in the world, as they were developed with modern fisheries science in mind. But many of the nation’s other fisheries were laid out long before these practices existed, as Wired points out.

Discussion — and, indeed, some level of contention — is healthy when it comes to a law with such far-reaching consequences as this. But regardless of which side you stand on, it’s hard to argue with the numbers provided by the most recent Status of Stocks: 92 percent of monitored stocks are not on the overfishing list, and 84 percent of stocks have avoided the overfished list. According to Sobeck, this is just the beginning.

“We will continue to strive toward sustainable management of our nation’s fisheries in order to preserve our oceans for future generations,” she said in the press release.

Top image: The Cape Hatteras butterfish stock was once overfished but has since recovered to a sustainable population size. (Credit: NOAA)

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