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Overfishing Study

A study due for release next month shows state and federal fisheries regulators are doing a poor job of preventing over-fishing in America’s coastal waters, and some species of fish could disappear if the over-fishing doesn’t stop. Houston Public Radio’s Jim Bell reports. Congress recognized this problem ten years ago when it passed a law […]

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A study due for release next month shows state and federal fisheries regulators are doing a poor job of preventing over-fishing in America’s coastal waters, and some species of fish could disappear if the over-fishing doesn’t stop. Houston Public Radio’s Jim Bell reports.

Congress recognized this problem ten years ago when it passed a law requiring specific over-exploited fish stocks to be rebuilt and put the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in charge of doing it, in fisheries off all three coasts — Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. Ten years later, a study by the Lenfest Ocean Program shows only three out of 67 fish stocks identified as overfished have been rebuilt. 82 percent are still overfished and below healthy levels. The Gulf of Mexico has eight species in the process of rebuilding, but only one has reached healthy levels again. Lead investigator Dr. Andy Rosenberg of the University of New Hampshire says it’s happening because there are too many commercial and recreational boats chasing too few fish.

“People often think that recreational fishing can’t over-exploit the stock, after all, you only take a few fish and a commercial boat has a big net. But if you think about the number of recreational fishermen, particularly in a place like the Gulf of Mexico, it’s a very very large number of people, and they take a very substantial portion of the catch. More than half of the catch is recreational catch, from many fisheries in the Gulf. ”

Chris Dorsett is Director of Gulf of Mexico Fish Conservation for the Ocean Conservancy, and he says federal fishery managers in the Gulf and elsewhere are ignoring the law, and are allowing unsustainable fishing for many kinds of fish.

“The federal managers have a group of scientists that advise what the appropriate catch limits should be, and we’re failing to follow that advice. We also need to make sure that when we set those limits they’re adhered to. And finally we need to have programs in place that create economic incentives for fishermen to do the right thing in terms of conservation.”

Dr. Andy Rosenberg says the solution is simple: stop overfishing and let the over-exploited species rebuild. Making that happen is complicated, because of budget constraints, politics and lobbying by recreational and commercial fishing groups.

“Unfortunately, for most of the body politic if you like, for most of the public, these kinds of issues are out of sight and out of mind. So the only people who’re pushing back politically are gonna be those who’re directly affected, the fishermen, recreational and commercial, and that means that the rules get weakened.”

A spokesman for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says rebuilding fish stocks takes time and the agency is doing everything it can under current law to accomplish that goal. Congress is considering some amendments to that law, which was passed ten years ago, and the Lenfest Ocean Program thinks the House version could weaken the law’s rebuilding provisions. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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