Over fished hal­ibut un­der scru­tiny

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Fed­eral fish­ing reg­u­la­tors say they are look­ing to change the way they man­age At­lantic hal­ibut in the wake of a surge in catch of the fish.

The gov­ern­ment lists At­lantic hal­ibut as “over­fished” and con­ser­va­tion­ists want to pro­tect it. But many fish­er­men say the catch is up be­cause the stock has been re­built over re­cent years.

East Coast fish­er­men caught more than 215,000 pounds of At­lantic hal­ibut in 2015 in the most pro­duc­tive year of fish­ing for the flat­fish since 1972. Catch of the fish in near shore Maine wa­ters is help­ing drive the in­crease, reg­u­la­tors say.

The reg­u­la­tory New Eng­land Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil de­cided last month to re­view man­age­ment of hal­ibut, which is pop­u­lar with din­ers and chefs for its thick, meaty steaks. Ex­actly what form reg­u­la­tion changes could take isn’t yet know. “We’ve iden­ti­fied that this is an is­sue, and this will be a pri­or­ity for 2017,” Jan­ice Plante, a spokeswoman for the coun­cil, said.

The coun­cil has also asked that Maine’s state fish­ing man­agers ad­just the way they over­see hal­ibut. Part of the is­sue is that if fish­er­men ex­ceed their quota for the fish, it can trig­ger re­stric­tions on fish­ing that im­pact fish­er­men who op­er­ate in fed­eral wa­ters. About 40 per­cent of the hal­ibut catch for the 2015 fish­ing year was taken in state wa­ters, mostly in Maine.

Lim­it­ing the amount of fish­ing

Ben Martens, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Maine Coast Fish­er­men’s Association, said Maine should con­sider lim­it­ing the amount of hal­ibut fish­ing in state wa­ters. Oth­er­wise, fed­eral fish­er­men will be neg­a­tively af­fected by the surge in state catch, he said.

Martens also said bet­ter data also is needed be­cause many fish­er­men be­lieve the stock has re­built sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years, and that’s why catch is up. “The story is that this is a re­build­ing suc­cess,” he said. “In New Eng­land, we don’t know what to do with suc­cesses.”

A spokesman for the Maine Depart­ment of Marine Re­sources de­clined to com­ment be­yond ac­knowl­edg­ing that the agency is re­view­ing the coun­cil’s re­quest, and tak­ing it se­ri­ously. Some con­ser­va­tion­ist groups have tried to dis­suade con­sumers from buy­ing At­lantic hal­ibut.

The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion lists it as a “species of con­cern,” mean­ing there are “con­cerns re­gard­ing sta­tus and threats,” but also in­suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion about whether a list­ing un­der the fed­eral En­dan­gered Species Act is war­ranted.

At­lantic hal­ibut is fished com­mer­cially off New Eng­land, with the ma­jor­ity of the catch com­ing ashore in Maine and Mas­sachusetts. The fish is of high eco­nomic value, fre­quently serv­ing as an en­tree item in the $30 range, and its price per pound at the dock has dou­bled for fish­er­men in the last ten years.

The much larger Pa­cific hal­ibut fish­ery, which is based around Alaska, gen­er­ates more than 20 mil­lion pounds of fish per year. —AP

PORT­LAND: At­lantic hal­ibut steaks are dis­played for sale at a seafood mar­ket, Fri­day, Dec 9, 2016. —AP

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