Scientists Update Stock Status for Five Marine Life Stocks 2003/07/15 Scientists Update Stock Status for Five Marine Life Stocks


Status Update

for Five Stocks





Teri Frady
(508) 495-2239


NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

N         E         W         S



Portland, ME – Fishery scientists have reported on the status of witch flounder, spiny dogfish, Atlantic surfclams, Northern shortfin squid (illex), and hagfish.

There was encouraging news for witch flounder, a less encouraging account for spiny dogfish, caution urged on increasing fishing for surfclams and shortfin squid, and recommendations on how to better understand hagfish and the developing fishery for this species.

The findings were reported last evening, prior to a regular meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), which convenes today. The Council develops management plans for fisheries in this region's federal waters.

The scientific report is a product of the 37th meeting of the Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC), the scientific body convened regularly by NOAA Fisheries since 1985 to peer-review fish stock status analyses and produce scientific advice used by fishery managers in the Northeast. NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency with responsibility for the nation's marine fisheries.

Witch flounder spawning biomass is rebounding from historic lows observed in the mid-1990s, mostly owing to improved numbers of juvenile fish surviving to maturity. However, the population is still dominated by relatively young mature fish. The scientists recommended further reduction in fishing removals to encourage full recovery of the stock. Witch flounder are managed by the NEFMC as part of the region's groundfish complex.

The spiny dogfish stock will likely require decades to recover from intensive fishing during the 1990s that removed large numbers of females. Overall biomass has declined by just over one-third in the past decade, and mature females now account for only 15% of the stock. The biomass of mature females has declined by 75% over the past 10 years. In addition, trends in smaller litter sizes, and smaller pups in the litters, have persisted since the mid-1990s. To restore reproductive potential and improve pup production, the scientists recommended reducing removals to a very low level and avoiding targeting of females. Fisheries for spiny dogfish are managed jointly by the NEFMC and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) in federal waters, and in state waters through the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC).

The Atlantic surfclam population, while generally stable and in good condition, has experienced a decline in biomass since 1999. The scientists advised against substantial increases in catch levels, and suggested that localized depletions of clam beds should also be avoided. The surfclam fishery is managed by the MAFMC.

The Northern shortfin squid is difficult to assess because of its short life-span, and highly migratory movements. The stock and fishery occur in both U.S. and Canadian waters. The scientists urged continued cooperative research with the fishing industry and Canadian partners to gather better data for understanding the life history and stock dynamics of this species in relation to the fisheries. Current trends in abundance and biomass suggest that the population is in a low productivity phase, and.that the present quota may not prevent overharvest if this is the case. The fishery is managed by the MAFMC.

Finally, the group took its first look at hagfish, an eel-like species recently pursued for both its skin (for leather) and meat, sold mostly in Asian markets. Little is known about the fishery or the fish. Internationally, other hagfish fisheries have been lucrative but short-lived, characterized by overexploitation and rapid collapse. The relatively small numbers of relatively large eggs found in females suggest that they may have limited reproductive capacity. The scientists made recommendations for data collection and research direction, and noted that a fishery management plan is likely warranted that would at least discourage new fishing effort and protect juvenile fish.


The Stock Assessment Review Committee Reports are one part of the information used by scientists and managers to describe the status of marine fish stocks in the region and to build sustainable fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries, please visit

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service/Northeast Fisheries Science Center * 166 Water Street * Woods Hole, MA * 02543
Link disclaimer | Email webmaster | Privacy policy |     File Modified Nov 24, 2004