August 10, 1999 -- Scientific Advice Presented for Four Northeast Commerical Fish Stocks

NOAA Fisheries scientists

present advice on witch flounder,

sea scallops, and squid

George Liles
PH: (508) 495-2378
FAX: 508 495-2258


NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

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Scientists reported today that the Northeastern witch flounder stock is much improved and that sea scallop stocks are still recovering. In addition, they reported that while an important squid stock may be approaching numbers requiring some fishing reduction, a reduction in harvest now will rapidly reduce the risk of overfishing.

"These findings confirm that recovery measures can work for these species," says Patricia Kurkul, Northeast Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency charged with building sustainable fisheries in U.S. territorial waters. "In the case of squid, the findings also illustrate how a little harvesting restraint early can have fairly quick economic benefits," Kurkul said.

The findings were reported today at a Philadelphia meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the body that devises regional management plans for commercial and recreational fisheries in federal waters.

The scientific report is a product of the 29th meeting of the Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Review Committee, the scientific body convened regularly since 1985 to peer-review fish stock status analyses and produce scientific advice used by fishery managers in the Northeast.

Witch flounder occur on Georges Bank and in the more northerly Gulf of Maine. Unlike many Gulf of Maine groundfish stocks, witch flounder prospects have improved in recent years, largely owing to above average-success of newly spawned individuals surviving to become young adult fish . In addition, the rate of removals by harvesting and discards have declined by about half since 1996 and the spawning stock biomass has doubled from a record-low level in 1995.

The analyses indicate that continued restrained witch flounder harvest will further strengthen total and spawning biomass and promote rebuilding of the older age groups, a portion of the stock that has not yet improved in this relatively slow-maturing flounder.

Sea scallops inside areas closed to dragging now account for most of the stock present on Georges Bank and about half of that present off the Mid-Atlantic. These closure areas have resulted in reduced harvest rates and in relatively rapid improvements in the scallop beds they encompass.

The report notes the success of recent collaborative experiments in Closed Area II on Georges Bank. The results of those experiments were instrumental in devising the limited opening in Area II this summer. It recommends similar experiments elsewhere to determine how efficiently scallop dredges perform on different kinds of ocean bottom, and to develop an "inventory" of bottom types encountered in the fishery. These are two kinds of information important to developing a planned rotational opening plan for this fishery.

Finally, the report recommends taking precautions to assure that overfishing of longfin squid stops before the stock size declines to unacceptably low levels, and to assure that overfishing does not occur for shortfin squid, which have not been particularly productive in recent years.

For longfin squid (loligo), the analyses indicate that the stock has been at a comparatively low level for the past decade, but that it can rebuild quickly if fishing removals are low. Rather than continue fishing at current levels and run a high risk of stock depletion, the report advises restraint for the next few seasons to support growth of the stock.

For shortfin squid (Illex), the report is precautionary, noting that this species is difficult to assess owing to its short life span (less than one year), wide distribution over international boundaries, and extensive migration patterns (from the southeastern Atlantic to waters off Newfoundland). While overfishing is not likely occurring, the biological indicators of an overfished stock are not yet fully understood for this stock. Given concerns about ensuring sufficient escapement (from harvest) of adults for spawning, and the increase in U.S. harvest in recent years, the report recommends that harvest rates should not increase from present levels.

The Stock Assessment Review Committee Reports are one part of the information used by scientists and managers to describe the status of fish and shellfish stocks and to build sustainable fisheries. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has primary responsibility for managing squids. Winter flounder and sea scallops are managed by the New England Fishery Management Council.

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