Report: Number of overfished US stocks hits all-time low

The number of U.S. fish stocks listed as overfished has reached an all-time low, according to NMFS’s annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report.

The overall number of stocks included as overfishing risks remains near an all-time low as well.

At the end of 2017, the overfishing list included 30 stocks (9 percent) and the overfished list included 35 stocks (15 percent). The number of stocks rebuilt since 2000 increased to 44 from 41 in the 2016 report. NMFS tracks a total of 474 stocks or stock complexes within 46 fishery management plans.

A stock is on the “overfishing” list when the harvest rate — a direct result of fishing activities — is too high. A stock is on the “overfished” list when the population size of a stock is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes, such as environmental changes.

“Ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks provides two key benefits for the American people,” said Chris Oliver, NMFS director. “First, it strengthens the value of U.S. fisheries’ contribution to the economy, which in 2015 exceeded $208 billion dollars. Second, it supports the communities and marine ecosystems that depend on healthy fisheries.”

According to the report, three stocks off the West Coast were rebuilt to healthy levels in 2017 — Bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish and Pacific ocean perch.

Western Atlantic sailfish, Pribilof Islands blue king crab, Puget Sound (Hood Canal) silver salmon, Georges Bank winter flounder, Northwestern Atlantic witch flounder (the status of which could not be determined after a 2017 assessment) and the Puerto Rico wrasses complex were removed from the overfishing list.

Those species were replaced with the same number of different stocks though, including Gulf of Mexico greater amberjack and gray triggerfish, Southern Atlantic red grouper, Puget Sound (Stillaguamish) silver salmon, North Atlantic shortfin mako and Mid-Atlantic red hake.

Six stocks came off the overfished list — Pacific Coast yellowed rockfish and ocean perch, Georges Bank winter flounder, Gulf of Mexico gray triggerfish and red snapper, and bluefin tuna (the status of which could not be determined after a 2017 assessment). The agency also added three stocks to the overfished list — Southern Atlantic red grouper, North Atlantic shorten mako and Mid-Atlantic red hake.

NMFS assessed three stocks for the first time this year — Pacific spiny dogfish, Aleutian Islands golden king crab and the St. Croix wrasses complex — all of which were kept off both lists.

“Rebuilding stocks to fully utilize our fisheries is one way NOAA can reduce our nation’s seafood deficit,” said Oliver. “We look forward to exploring innovative approaches to fisheries management and working with our partners to ensure America’s fisheries remain the world’s most sustainable.”

The full report, including access to past reports for comparison and explanations of the methods behind the assessments, is available online.

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman.

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