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Analysis shows rebound in fish population

Many commercial fishing stocks off the U.S. coast that were depleted by decades of overfishing are returning after a 1996 law ordered catch limits in a series of “painful but necessary steps to sustain and rebuild populations,” a newly released analysis on fish populations says.

The analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that 64 percent of fish stocks — 28 of 44 species — have been designated rebuilt or met their rebuilding targets or have made significant rebuilding progress.

Eight others showed limited rebuilding progress, either recovering to at least 50 percent of the rebuilding target or increasing at least 25 percent in abundance since the rebuilding plan began. Eight other species showed no rebuilding progress, the study showed, with six of those eight species being native to New England.

New England, the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are still areas of concern since significant portions of stocks show a lack of rebuilding progress, the study showed. The New England fish stocks that had yet to rebound were popular bottom dwellers, such as cod and flounder, The New York Times reported. In half of those cases, fish populations had grown by more than 25 percent, but were still being overfished.

All have been managed under the 1996 law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which sets a 10-year target for rebuilding each species.

Brad Sewell, a lawyer for the resources group and the main author of the analysis, told the Times the uptick in fish populations was especially impressive in light of what he called a dismal record in most other parts of the world.

“When you look at the population trajectories of dozens and dozens of stocks, you see ’96 as a real watershed,” he told the paper. “You see this cause and effect between implementing the law and the upward population trajectory.”

The report noted that between 2008 and 2010, the average revenue from catches of the 28 fish that made the most rebuilding progress had jumped 54 percent, allowing for inflation, from the start of their rebuilding. Estimated average annual 2008-2010 gross commercial revenue from these 28 stocks totaled almost $585 million — 92 percent higher (54 percent when adjusted for inflation) than revenue at the start of rebuilding.

The report’s calculations are based entirely on annual reports on fish stocks issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The service has labeled 124 species overfished, but the report focused on 44 for which there were enough data to draw conclusions on their rebuilding progress.

Mid-Atlantic fish stocks reported the most progress; all seven species examined had met population targets, including bluefish, black sea bass and summer flounder. Many New England stocks also recovered fully, including sea scallops, haddock, monkfish and yellowtail flounder.

Click here for the full report and click here for the Times story.



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