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In the News - November 2022

First published in Landings, November 2022.

Whale Statistics Modified, Little Changes NMFS announced on October 24 that it would be using updated data in its preliminary 2020 North Atlantic right whale population estimate. The agency drew on right whale data from 2016-2020 rather than 2015-2019. Use of that data reduced the number of estimated entanglements due to fishing gear from 70% to 66%. Observed data from 2018-2022 resulted in 74% of all observed entanglements assigned to fishing gear. Prior to 2021, risk reduction estimates were calculated by subtracting out the known country of origin from entanglement cases then applying country ratios to the remaining total estimated mortality or cases with unknown cause of death. Even if NMFS took this approach using the current 2016-2020 mortality data, there would be little change in the total estimated risk reduction required to get mortality and serious injury to a level below the Potential Biological Removal rate.

North Atlantic right whales. NOAA photo.

Injured Right Whale Estimate Rises, Again The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is adding morbidity cases (i.e., sublethally injured or ill whales) to the ongoing North Atlantic Right Whale Unusual Mortality Event, which began in 2017. The additions are based on a new scientific veterinary peer-reviewed protocol developed to provide a more complete picture of the population’s health. The 36 sublethal injury or illness cases reflect vessel strikes, entanglements, and injuries or poor body condition of unknown cause. Adding the new cases brings the total number of whales included in the Unusual Mortality Event to 91.

Scallop biomass estimates by year. NOAA chart.

Atlantic Sea Scallop Stocks at Lowest Since 1999 The New England Fishery Management Council reviewed a scallop survey report in October that showed the Atlantic sea scallop fishery is facing its lowest biomass in over 20 years. From a peak of more than 250,000 metric tons in 2017, the scallop biomass is now under 100,000 in 2022. The survey estimated a biomass decrease of almost 30%. The Georges Bank region saw the largest drop, around 36%. Council staff estimated catch would be lower than 44 million pounds in 2023.

Offshore wind farm. BOEM photo.

Agencies Craft Strategy to move Offshore Wind Projects Forward NMFS and the Interior Department released a draft strategy Friday to protect the endangered right whale amid an imminent boom of offshore wind development. The draft lays out a plan for both agencies to engage with the public and ocean users. It also spells out several primary goals for raising wind turbines while trying to recover the whale’s population, such as prioritizing mitigation, new research and monitoring, and improving communication. The two agencies are critical in assessing the marine life and fisheries impacts from construction of large-scale wind farms in the ocean, and their approval is needed for developers to obtain permits to build. More than a dozen offshore wind arrays are proposed or approved for construction in federal waters off the coast of New England.

Terry Alexander. Maine Fishermen's Forum photo

Harpswell Fisherman Named National Fisherman 2022 Highliner Terry Alexander of Harpswell, Maine, has fished for over 40 years, running his 62-foot trawler Jocka for Gulf of Maine groundfish and squid down into the Mid-Atlantic waters. His other boat, the Rachel T, can harvest northern shrimp, gillnet for groundfish in the late summer and winter, and monkfish in waters off Rhode Island.

Alexander has hosted numerous scientists and others conducting cooperative research on both boats, from Nordmore grate work in the northern shrimp fishery to an industry-based cod survey in the Gulf of Maine. He was appointed to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in 2009, served a term, and then was appointed to three terms on the New England Fishery Management Council from 2012 to 2021.

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