Annual NOAA report: ‘steady progress’ toward rebuilding fisheries

Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA, responds to questions on the controversial “catch shares” program, a program to privatize ocean resources, in Ukiah in December 2010. Photo by Dan Bacher.
Annual NOAA report touts ‘steady progress’ toward rebuilding fisheries

But massive fish kills continue in Delta

by Dan Bacher

While the corporate media has published a number of articles lately claiming that marine fisheries are in extreme crisis around the world because of “overfishing,” a federal government report issued today said that U.S. marine fish populations are steadily rebuilding because of strict regulations imposed upon commercial and recreational fisheries off the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

“We are making great progress ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks around the nation,” Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service said upon release of the annual report to Congress from the service. “We are turning a corner as we see important fish stocks rebounding.”

This is the case with rockfish, lingcod and other groundfish stocks in California, where the strictest marine fishing regulations on the planet are already in place, but definitely not the case with imperiled populations of Central Valley salmon and Bay-Delta Estuary fish species.

Corporate environmental NGOs continue to repeat the false mantra that California fisheries are in crisis because of “overfishing” to promote the imposition of so-called “marine protected areas” under the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, a process overseen by a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive, agribusiness hack and other corporate operatives.

California already has one of largest marine protected areas on the entire planet in place – the Rockfish Conservation Area – that stretches along the entire continental shelf of California from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.

Forty stocks of fish populations are subject to “overfishing” in US waters, but federal scientists claim “steady progress” is being made to rebuild them. In the Northeast, three fisheries stocks – Georges Bank haddock, Atlantic pollock and spiny dogfish – have now been rebuilt to healthy levels, bringing to 21 the number that have been rebuilt nationwide since 2000 (

NOAA’s “Status of U.S. Fisheries” reports on the fishing activity and population level for fish stocks in the country. “Scientists announced today that in 2010, 84 percent of the stocks examined for fishing activity (213 of 253 stocks) were free from overfishing, or not fished at too high a level, and 77 percent of the stocks with known population levels (159 of 207 stocks) were above the overfished level, that level too low to provide the maximum sustainable yield,” according to NOAA.

“Commercial and recreational fishing depend on healthy and abundant fish stocks and marine ecosystems to provide lasting jobs, food and recreational opportunities,” Schwaab said. “By working with the nation’s eight regional management fishery councils and commercial and recreational fishermen, we are making steady progress each year to fully rebuild overfished stocks.”

Four stocks removed from low-population list

“Beyond the three rebuilt northeastern stocks, there were other positive changes since last year,” according to the report.

• Four stocks were removed from the low-population list, all from the Northeast: Gulf of Maine haddock, American plaice, Gulf of Maine cod and southern New England windowpane.

• Two stocks were removed from the list of stocks being fished at too high a level: Georges Bank yellowtail flounder and Southern Atlantic Coast black grouper.

• The Bering Sea southern Tanner crab was added to the list of species with a low population level. Many different factors, including environmental factors, disease, fishing, and habitat degradation, can influence a stock’s population. Scientists believe the Tanner crab’s decline may be due to environmental factors.

Scientists examined more stocks than ever before in 2010, and findings on these stocks with a previously unknown status were mixed:

• Gulf of Mexico black grouper was found to be free from overfishing, and had a population above the low-population level.

• Southern Atlantic Coast black grouper was found to have a population above the low-population level.

• Pacific bluefin tuna was found to be fished at too high a level, though its population was above the low-population level.

• Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank Atlantic wolffish was found to have a low population.

A handful of other stocks were moved onto the “overfishing” and “overfished lists” this year:

Added to the list of stocks experiencing fishing at too high a level were Northwestern Atlantic witch flounder, Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank windowpane flounder, and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic windowpane flounder.

Central Valley salmon listed as ‘low population’ stock

Added to the list of low-population stocks were Northwestern Atlantic Coast witch flounder, Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank windowpane flounder, Georges Bank winter flounder, Southern Atlantic Coast red grouper, California Central Valley Sacramento (fall) chinook salmon, and Bering Sea southern Tanner crab.

The one California fish added to the “low population” stock list in 2010, the Central Valley fall chinook salmon, collapsed in recent years due to the record pumping of water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to corporate agribusiness and southern California and declining water quality, combined with poor ocean conditions. Salmon fishing for fall run chinook on the ocean and in Central Valley rivers, closed in 2008 and 2009, played no role in the collapse.

The scientists pointed out the fallacy held by some that low fish populations are always “caused” by fishing. “Although it is often assumed that a stock has a low population due to too much fishing, other factors influence the health and abundance of fish stocks, including environmental changes, disease, and habitat degradation,” according to NOAA. “Scientists believe that one of the stocks added to the overfished list, the Tanner crab in Alaska, may have been affected by environmental factors.”

Three groundfish species on the West Coast – canary rockfish, cowcod and yelloweye rockfish – are currently rebuilding under strict regulations by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The canary rockfish population has exploded so rapidly that this deepwater rockfish has expanded into shallow water zones to seek forage in recent years, puzzling veteran skippers and anglers why this extremely abundant species hasn’t been taken off the “overfished” and rebuilding list already.

NOAA report dovetails with Science magazine study

The NOAA stock report needs to be considered in light of the groundbreaking study published in the July 31, 2009 issue of Science magazine. This report revealed that the California Current ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined by co-authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and 19 other scientists.

“The drastic reductions in harvest in California have been designed to rebuild the overexploited rockfish stocks,” said Hilborn. “At present the community of groundfish is now at about 60% of its unfished biomass, far above the 30-40% level target for maximum sustained yield.”

Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, and the other authors of “Rebuilding Global Fisheries” say that efforts made to reduce overfishing are succeeding in five of ten large marine ecosystems studied, including those in California, New Zealand and Iceland. Their study puts into perspective recent reports predicting a “total collapse” of global fisheries within 40 years.

The conclusions by the 21 international scientists with widely divergent views effectively counter the false arguments promoted by MLPA Initiative advocates about the urgent “need” to fast-track the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, privatized in 2004 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, because of the “dire condition” that rockfish, lingcod and other groundfish stocks are supposedly in along the California coast.

“Much of the motivation for the MLPA was concern about the state of the groundfish stocks – there is clear evidence that these can be rebuilt without MPAs resulting from the MLPA that have only recently begun to be implemented,” Hilborn said. “The benefits of the MPAs established under the MLPA will be primarily to have some areas of high abundance of species with limited mobility.”

The abstract for Rebuilding Global Fisheries is available at

California anadromous and estuary fish are in crisis!

While marine fisheries including rockfish, lingcod and white seabass are rapidly rebuilding in California waters under the strictest fishing regulations in the world, Central Valley chinook salmon and other anadromous fish species – marine fish that spawn in fresh water – and estuary species such as the Delta and longfin smelt are in unprecedented crisis.

One of the largest fish kills in California history is taking place right now in the “predator” state and federal pumps of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, due to the pumping of massive amounts of water to agribusiness and southern California.

A total of 8,830,515 splittail, 35,435 chinook salmon, 246,833 striped bass, 33,822 largemouth bass, 60,822 bluegill, 50,634 white catfish, 17,514 channel catfish, 44,011 threadfin shad, 65,763 American shad and 1,614 steelhead were “salvaged” in the state and federal water export facilities from January 1 to July 11, 2011, according to Department of Fish and Game data.

“And these ‘salvage’ numbers represent only the tip of the iceberg,” said Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

The overall loss of fish in and around the State Water Project and Central Valley Project facilities is believed to dwarf the actual salvage counts, according to “A Review of Delta Fish Population Losses from Pumping Operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,” prepared by Larry Walker Associates in January 2010 for the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (

“The Walker report cites DFG and DWR studies as showing that 75% of fish entering Clifton Court Forebay are lost to predation in project facilities before they reach the salvage facilities,” said Jennings. “An additional 20-30% are lost at the salvage facility louvers.”

Of the remaining fish actually salvaged, 1-12% are lost during handling and trucking operation and another 10-30% are lost to post-release predation because there are only 4 release sites, according to the report.

The numbers are far worse for Delta smelt, as 94-99% are lost to predation in project facilities and virtually no salvaged delta smelt survive trucking and handling.

Jennings concluded, “Fish losses at export facilities represent a staggering embezzlement of public trust resources belonging to all Californians.”

The DFG’s 2010 Fall Midwater Trawl survey revealed that fish populations were at or near historic lows. The 2010 survey documented that splittail were 0% of their 1998 population, striped bass were 0.2% of 1967 numbers, threadfin shad were 0.8% of 1997 numbers, American shad were 7.3% of 2003 numbers, longfin smelt were 0.2% of 1967 numbers and Delta smelt were 1.7% of 1970 numbers, according to Jennings.

While MLPA advocates spend enormous time, money and energy kicking anglers and seaweed harvesters off the water to “protect” fish stocks that are well on their way to recovery, federal and state government officials are doing little or nothing to stop the carnage at the Delta death pumps that they operate!

Winnemem Wintu Tribe leader reacts to NOAA report

Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, wasn’t impressed at all with the conclusions of the NOAA stock report on US ocean fish populations.

“When the ocean fish populations make a come back, the rivers will know!” she emphasized. “So far the US fisheries report are questionable! The rivers have very few salmon!”

Sisk-Franco, whose tribe has launched an ambitious campaign to restore winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam, also criticized NOAA for not looking at the massive fish kills taking place at the Delta pumps.

“What about the Chinook salmon dying in the Delta pumps along with the 8 million plus splittail, Delta smelt, bass and others?” she asked. “How can they rebound to a healthy population? NOAA must not be looking at the Delta Estuary.”

Fishery management the wrong way

As the state and federal governments do little nothing to stop the massive fish kill at the Delta pumps, the state of California plans to impose new regulations on Tribal members harvesting seaweed and mussels under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, even though there is not one shred of proof that traditional gathering “harms” the marine ecosystem.

The California Fish and Game Commission accepted a “preferred alternative” Wednesday, June 29 that “failed to affirm traditional tribal gathering” in the MLPA North Coast Study Region, according to a statement from the Yurok Tribe, the largest Indian Tribe in California.

Under “Option 1″ of the preferred alternative, tribal members sixteen or older would have to show, on the request of a game warden, a state recreational fishing license in addition to a federally recognized Tribal ID – and be limited by state regulations.

“I cannot accept the part about the fishing license,” said Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. “The Fish and Game has taken an unjust and patronizing step. No one can separate these resources from our culture.”

Meanwhile, the same state government, along with the federal government, has killed millions and millions of splittail and thousands and thousands of Central Valley chinook salmon, winter run chinook and other species this year in the Delta pumps. The state and federal fishery agencies entrusted to “protect” fish populations are doing nothing to stop this massacre in the “predator” pumps.

NOAA Report Background:

The report, which has been issued annually since 1997, summarizes the best available science for the 528 federally-managed fish stocks. Since not all stocks are targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen, NOAA prioritizes collecting information on the commercially and recreationally important species that constitute most of the domestic fishing activity in the country. Stocks are added or removed from the lists only when new information becomes available. Knowing the status of stocks allows fishery managers to identify and address problems, and effectively rebuild and maintain healthy stocks.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, NOAA and the eight regional fishery management councils are required to end overfishing, use annual catch limits and accountability measures to prevent future overfishing, and rebuild stocks to levels that can provide the maximum sustainable yield. NOAA’s Fisheries Service works with the regional fishery management councils around the country to end overfishing for all stocks. Annual catch limits and accountability measures are already in place for 203 of the 528 federally-managed fish stocks, including all stocks that are identified as being fished at too high a level.

Fully rebuilt, U.S fisheries are expected to add $31 billion to the economy and an additional 500,000 jobs. Commercial and recreational fishing currently generate $72 billion per year and support 1.9 million full and part-time jobs.

To complete the annual report, NOAA examines a variety of sources, including landings data and log books, and conducts its own surveys. The 2010 Status of U.S. Fisheries, which contains data and analysis nationally and by region, is available online at

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

MLPA Initiative Background:

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA “Initiative” to “implement” the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.

The “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of “marine protected areas” included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public “partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

Tribal members, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, human rights advocates and civil liberties activists have slammed the MLPA Initiative for the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws. Critics charge that the initiative, privatized by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, Brown Act, California Administrative Procedures Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

MLPA and state officials refused to appoint any tribal scientists to the MLPA Science Advisory Team (SAT), in spite of the fact that the Yurok Tribe alone has a Fisheries Department with over 70 staff members during the peak fishing season, including many scientists. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force also didn’t include any tribal representatives until 2010 when one was finally appointed to the panel.

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