(CN) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration touted the environmental benefits of the agency’s fisheries management Friday, saying the number of fisheries at sustainable levels is near a record high.
The agency said its 2018 Status of the U.S. Fisheries Annual Report to Congress is proof the United States is the unrivaled leader in stewardship of fish populations within its rivers, streams an off its shores.
In addition to the near record on sustainability, the agency said it has rebuilt the population of the smooth skate – a small fish resembling stingrays – in the Gulf of Maine.
NOAA also touted the positive contributions commercial and recreational fishing make to the national economy.
“In 2016 alone, U.S. commercial fishing, recreational fishing, and the seafood industry generated $212 billion in sales, contributed $100 billion to the gross domestic product, and supported 1.7 million full- and part-time jobs,” Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, NOAA’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, said in a statement.
But while the tone of the release was optimistic, a press conference Friday with Alan Risenhoover, director of NOAA’s Office of Sustainable Fisheries, struck a more subdued note.
While the status of the smooth skate as a rebuilt fishery makes it one of 45 species rebuilt since 2001, 13 species were added to the overfishing or overfished lists as defined by NOAA.
Species added to overfishing lists means that they are being harvested at an unsustainable rate. Species given the overfished designation have a population size that is too low, jeopardizing its sustainability.
The agency added eight species added to the latter list, according to the latest report, including five species of salmon that once flourished off the West Coast.
“It’s due to warmer waters of the West Coast and recent droughts raising temperatures in spawning streams,” Risenhoover said. Droughts can also reduce the amount of water in rivers and streams where salmon journey to spawn in the spring and autumn.
The concern is that the species numbers are not dwindling due to the activities of recreational and commercial fishermen, but due to environmental factors – many of which are exacerbated by climate change.
Another species that ended up on the overfished list this past year is the blue king crab, the largest of the king crab species that once patrolled the bottom of the Bering Sea. But rapidly increasing water temperatures combined with past overfishing have reduced the population numbers to unsustainable levels.
The problem with rising temperatures is that traditional management techniques employed by NOAA – shortened commercial and recreational fishing seasons, lower quotas or even outright prohibitions of fishing – are not as effective when overarching environmental habitat concerns contribute to the decline.
Nevertheless, Risenhoover said the numbers of species on the overfished list comprise only 18% of all the fisheries managed under NOAA. Overall, 43 species are on that list, not that much different from nine years ago when 48 species landed on the overfished list.
Many of the species enumerated in 2010 have since been rehabilitated, officials point out. But new challenges have emerged.
Warm blobs of water continue to crop up in the Pacific Ocean, destroying plankton and wreaking havoc on the food chain. Coral bleaching, algal blooms and rising temperatures mean fishery managers have more factors to consider than how long a given fishing season should last.