In the last couple of weeks, two reports came out regarding fish stocks. Both of them give some measure of hope. Before I get the actual reports, a little background is in order. The ecological health of our oceans is in serious jeopardy. Fish populations have been on a very steep decline, especially those fish we rely on for food.
In 2003 Pew issued a report called: America’s Living Ocean: Charting a Course For Sea Change. The report noted that the U.S. Government believed that only 22% of the fish stocks (fish we rely on for food and recreation) were being managed in a sustainable manner. According to the report almost 1/3 of our fishery stocks were over fished and were continued to be exploited in an unsustainable manner. Of the remaining fish stocks, the report noted that there was not enough information on more than 655 different populations in order to determine whether the fisheries were healthy, being over fished or were over fished. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released a report similar to Pew’s in 2004, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. In that report the commission found 25 to 30 percent of the “world’s major fish stocks are over exploited.” The damage to the commercial fishing stocks also has a ripple effect and damaging other fish populations by removing either food sources or top predators.
NJ’s fish populations follow nationally trends. In NJ approximately 30 different fisheries are managed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Of those 30 fisheries, in 2003 12 species were over fished or experiencing overfishing.
In future post I will go into more depth of how our government regulates our fishing stocks, but until then I will provide a very brief overview. Under the current system, if a species is over fished the Federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act require that the fishing stocks be rebuilt, to sustainable levels, within 10 years if biologically possible. The country is divided into marine councils. It is the responsibility of the marine councils to create the rebuilding plans and then to allocate the yearly catch quotas to insure the plans are effective. These quotas are then divided between the recreational and commercial fisheries.
There have been several problems with the current quota system. One of the problems with the system is that the quotas are set too high; thus reducing the chances that the fish population will recover. These already too high quotas are then exceeded. Exceeding quotas further hampers the ability to rebuild the stocks in a timely and efficient manner.
Aside from the ecologically reasons for maintaining healthy fish populations, fishing is a very large economic engine in the US. In 2001 the U.S. commercial seafood sector contributed 28.6 billion dollars to the U.S gross national product and we at 15.2 pounds of seafood per person. Recreational fisherman spent $25 billion enjoying their fishing. These national and world trends also apply to New Jersey. Fishing is very important in New Jersey. In 2003 over 170 million pounds of seafood was brought into NJ ports for total revenue of $2 billion when combined with recreational fishing. Coastal Ocean Coalition’s
Fishing is an important economic activity. Fishing is an important recreational activity. A healthy fish population is important for the ecological health of the ocean. That economic and ecological health is in serious jeopardy. But from a recent set of reports there seems to be hope that not only the ecological health of fisheries can recover but the economic health as well.
A couple of weeks ago, the Pew Environment Group released “Investing In Our Future: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations.” In essence the report details that short term restrictions would lead to long term economic benefits. Then the Journal Science published a paper indicating that it is possible to rebuild our fishing stocks to sustainable levels. I will write about the Science article in a future post.
The Pew report asserts that if four Atlantic Ocean species (Summer Flounder, Butterfish, Black Sea Bass, Bluefish) were allowed to rebuild according to their management plans commercial landings have gone from $55.3 million a year to $88 million a year or a 48% increase. The recreational sector would see a 24% increase or $536 million a year. The total direct economic benefit to the fishing sectors would be an additional $570 million per year if the fishing stocks were allowed to rebuild. These direct economic benefits would then have resulted in indirect economic benefits through the sale of the commercial fish to fish markets, restaurants, increased jobs for fish processors, etc.
In short if the fishing councils set the quota levels at the recommended scientific levels required to rebuild stocks within 10 years and those quotas are not exceeded, there would be a substantial long term economic benefit to the commercial and recreational fishing industries. The State of New Jersey would also benefit from the increased activity and the fishing populations would benefit by reaching sustainable and healthy populations. By ignoring the science the regional councils are exchanging diminishing yields and profits at the expense of increase yields and profits. Hopefully with the new Federal task force on Ocean Policy there will be a sea change.