- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent annual report on the status of U.S. marine fisheries to Congress didn’t contain a great deal of encouraging news.

By tracking of population levels and harvest rates for species caught in federal waters — meaning between three and 200 miles off the U.S. coasts — the report showed a big problem with overfishing.

The latest data available from 2006 focuses primarily on commercial fish netting operations. It provides population levels for 187 fish stocks and multispecies groupings known as complexes. Of these, 47 were overfished. NOAA scientists also assessed harvest rates for 242 stocks and found that 48 were subject to overfishing.

“Overfishing must be solved now,” said Bill Hogarth, director of the NOAA Fisheries Service.

However, Hogarth was happy to pass along that 75 percent of our domestic assessed fish stocks are not overfished.

Last year the Bush administration received bipartisan support in Congress as it rewrote and toughened the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which has governed management of America’s fisheries for 30 years. The act now requires fishery managers to revise fishery management plans to end overfishing by 2010, a call made by the administration in the 2004 U.S. Ocean Action Plan.

Here’s an idea that the president, NOAA and Congress apparently haven’t thought of. If a species (the Atlantic cod comes to mind) is overfished, why wait until it’s badly depleted? Why not stop all fishing for any species that appears to be heading for some kind of threatened species status?

It worked for the Chesapeake Bay’s then-overfished striped bass when it received total protection from 1985 until 1990. The off-limits rule included commercial as well as recreational fishermen. The bass bounced back big time.

Meanwhile, think about this the next time you enter a kill-your-catch ocean fishing tournament or order seafood: Among the overfished species in various U.S. jurisdictions were the blue king crab, blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, bigeye tuna, albacore, bluefin tuna, sandbar shark, porbeagle shark, dusky shark and several types of grouper. You already know that the main food source of local inshore species, the menhaden, is overfished; so are the gray sea trout and various flounder species.

Want to see the report to Congress? Go to www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/statusoffisheries/SOSmain.htm.

Recreation area closed — Perhaps by the time you read this the place could be back in operation, but recently the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s Supplee Lane Recreation Area in Laurel was closed because of damage caused by recent thunderstorms. The recreation area is located off Brooklyn Bridge Road. Downed trees blocked portions of the area’s access road and boat ramps. A significant number of tree limbs dangled above the ground. WSSC crews began working to clean up the damage. For updates, call the WSSC’s Brighton Dam facility, 301/774-9124.

Money bass at Smith Mountain? — A number of tagged bass are swimming around in southwestern Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake, and one of them might be worth $25,000. Early Times Kentucky Whisky is again doing this promotional stunt, which resulted in 21 tagged bass being caught in Lake Anna last year. Unfortunately, none of the 21 had the special winning number. Anglers must catch a bass tagged by Early Times and register their tag number on www.earlytimes.com.

Cleaning up Okeechobee — The South Florida Water Management District is doing a fine job cleaning up one of the top bass waters in the nation, Lake Okeechobee. In the past six weeks, more than 1.9 million cubic yards of muck was removed from Okeechobee’s bone-dry shoreline. In addition, 1,000 pond apple and cypress trees were planted on the rim canal and on the spoil islands near Clewiston, with an additional 1,725 trees planted near Moore Haven. The trees will help restore critical aquatic habitat when water levels return to normal. That will be greeted with joy by Washington area bass hounds who make a pilgrimage to Okeechobee now and then.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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