Tuesday, November 02, 2010

{Press} NOAA study: Fish rules don't jeopardize whales

The Gloucester Daily Times | Richard Gaines | November 1, 2010

"The system for managing the New England groundfishery "is likely to adversely effect, but not jeopardize" the four endangered species of whales and the four endangered species of turtles that swim in waters fished primarily with bottom trawls and gillnets, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found.

NOAA's study, released last Friday, focuses on the impact on the endangered whales and turtles by Amendment 16, the groundfish plan that covers 15 species, and seven other more narrowly focused plans — for lobster, monkfish, dogfish, skate, squid, mackerel and butterfish, summer flounder, scup, black sea bass and bluefish.

The findings are good news for all concerned, including the fishing industry, according to Terri Frade, spokeswoman for the New England Fishery Science Center at Woods Hole.

"It's positive in that it reflects the improved condition of the right whale, which is endangered but its numbers are going up rather than dropping," she said.

"The big question is, is the plan likely to result in jeopardy (to the endangered mammals)?" said Mary Colligan, NOAA's assistant regional administrator for protected resources. "If we find jeopardy, how do we avoid that?

"Because it is not likely to jeopardize (the endangered species of whales and turtles)," she said, "no alternatives are required."

As recently as 2001, the groundfish plan at the time included seasonal area management and gear modifications to combat findings that the endangered species swimming with the prized food fish in the waters fished off the East Coast from Maine through the Carolinas were in harm's way, Frade said.

In 1999, according to the groundfish plan analysis, "a right whale mortality was attributed to entanglement to gillnet gear," though NOAA was unable to determine the origins of the gear. The incident led to a full review of the impact of the groundfish plan and a finding that the fishery jeopardized the continued existence of right whales."

NOAA is required to re-initiate a study after creation of — or major alternations to — a fishery management plan.

Frade said the minimum population estimate of right whales is 361, with 39 calves born last year, the most since 1993.

According to NOAA's study, "the annual take of loggerhead sea turtles in bottom otter trawl gear for the period 2000-2004 was estimated to be 43 and three for gillnet gear used in the Northeast multispecies fishery."

The projected mortality of loggerheads accidentally taken in trawl gear is 19 of 43, and two of three from gillnets.

The projected mortality represents no more than 0.05 percent of the females, the consultation report concluded.

According to the report, trawling and gillnetting accounted for 87 percent of all landings in 2007, the last year for which figures were reported in the study.

Experts estimate there are about 15,000 loggerhead turtles in the seas.

The biological opinion study covers endangered right whales as well as humpback, fin and Sei whales and leatherback, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, great sea turtles and leatherback turtles as well as loggerheads.

The finding that the fishery plans "may affect" the endangered whales and turtles requires NOAA to take a series of "reasonable and prudent measures" to minimize impacts.

These measures include "ensuring that any sea turtles taken in multispecies fishing gear are handled in such a way as minimize stress to the animal and increase its survival rate."

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