Thursday, June 23, 2005

ENV: Fish Stock Depletion

Rules Altered on Depletion of Fish Stocks
By CORNELIA DEAN, June 23, 2005, The New York Times

The Fisheries Service has proposed fishing guideline revisions that it says will speed the restoration of depleted fish stocks. But in some cases, other fisheries experts say, the proposals could have the opposite effect.

The service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, posted the proposed revisions yesterday in the Federal Register. They relate to provisions of a law that sets standards for the eight regional councils that manage fishing in national waters.

At a news conference, Dr. Rebecca Lent, deputy director of the fisheries agency, said that among other things, the new proposals would clarify existing guidelines, focus more closely on ending overfishing and manage stocks more realistically.

One of the most contentious changes involves the timetable that fishery managers are supposed to meet in restoring depleted stocks. As the law now stands, managers must act to restore stocks within 10 years, unless doing so is biologically impossible. Under the new rules, managers have the amount of time it would take stocks to rebound if there were no fishing, plus the time it takes the species, on average, to reach spawning age.

In many cases, Dr. Lent said, the new guideline would tighten managers' deadlines. In practice, restoring depleted stocks usually involves limits on fishing.

But Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, a fisheries expert and professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire, said this change could end up stretching the time managers have to restore some stocks. If that happens, he said, "you're taking a biological risk."

The proposed changes, Dr. Lent said, also call for managing fish in stock assemblages: "stocks that live together, have the same life histories and are caught with the same fishing gear." She said this was a more realistic approach, given that so much is unknown about many of the fish species the service manages.

But under the new proposals, said Dr. Rosenberg, a former deputy director of the fisheries agency, "we could end up seriously overfishing some minor stocks." As major stocks are depleted, he said, minor stocks assume greater economic importance in fishing, and "a species might be minor to a commercial fishery but still play a key role in an ecosystem; we are only worrying about the things we like to eat right now."

The public has until Aug. 22 to comment on the proposed rules. The proposals and other information are posted on the agency's Web site,


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