Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Studies Making Waves; Fishery Policies Catch Flak Planning Is Lacking, Report Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Studies Making Waves; Fishery Policies Catch Flak Planning Is Lacking, Report Says

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Julavits, Times-Union outdoors editor

The fishing world has been recently shaken by two comprehensive reports that paint a doomsday picture of the oceans and the creatures that live in them.

The one-two punch came in the form of a long-term study published in Nature magazine by two Canadian marine biologists, and a three-year study by the 18-member Pew Oceans Commission.

In the Nature report, the two scientists said that over the past half-century, commercial fishing has wiped out all but 10 percent of the populations of large open ocean species such as tuna, swordfish and marlin, along with bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, halibut and flounder.

As part of their study, the Canadian researchers collected data going back to 1952 from Japanese longline commercial boats. Longlines, which can stretch behind a boat for miles, deploy hundreds of baited hooks that catch any number of species. At the beginning of the study period, the Japanese longliners were averaging 10 fish per 100 hooks. Today, the scientists said, the longliners are lucky to catch one per 100.

The 144-page Pew report focuses more on the U.S. and looks at a variety of factors affecting ocean health, including overfishing, pollution, the risks of aquaculture and the effects of so-called global warming. The latter issue is a subject of much debate.

Both studies call for an abrupt change in fishery management policies.

Whether you agree with all the findings or not, the studies represent a wake-up call.

"I think the Pew study is going to get people's attention," said Ponte Vedra Beach's Ebbie LeMaster, who has served on both state and federal fishery management panels. "It's the first study to come along and say what we all know."

"From what I've read of [Pew], in general, it's a good report," said Alex Jernigan of Sebastian, the Coastal Conservation Association national vice chairman and a former member of the federal Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. "I concur with their analysis of the National Marine Fisheries Service."

The Pew commission makeup included scientists, fishermen, politicians and conservationists. They concluded that present fisheries management policy is too reactive-based, responding to individual emergencies but not planning for the future. The group is asking Congress and the President to approve a National Ocean Policy Act to protect and restore the oceans.

The commission also endorsed establishment of an independent ocean agency to streamline management. Currently, the National Marine Fisheries Service manages federal waters and is part of the Commerce Department. Working under the NMFS are eight regional councils. The councils draw up management plans for various species and submit them to the NMFS for approval. …

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