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One-Quarter of U.S. Fish Stocks Overfished

WASHINGTON, DC - Georges Bank yellowtail flounder is one of the most overfished species in U.S. waters, according to the report on the status of U.S. marine fisheries for 2005 issued Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). More than one-quarter of all fish stocks and complexes in U.S. waters are overfished, the report shows. In 2005, NOAA scientists determined population levels for 206 fish stocks and multi-species groupings known as complexes. Of these, 152 (74 percent) were not overfished, but 26 percent are overfished, according to the report.

NOAA scientists also determined the harvest rates for 237 stocks and found that 192 (81 percent) were not subject to overfishing.

The agency says the annual Status of the Stocks Report report shows progress in rebuilding overfished species.

Pacific lingcod stocks became fully rebuilt three years ahead of schedule and were added to the list of healthy, sustainable fisheries in 2005.

Six stocks grew to a level that they were no longer overfished in 2005 ­ barndoor skate, bluefish, golden tilefish, widow rockfish, Bering Sea snow crab, and Eastern Bering Sea tanner crab.

Seven stocks whose population levels were unknown in 2004 were determined not to be overfished in 2005 ­ starry flounder, blackgill rockfish, gopher rockfish, California scorpionfish, kelp greenling, and Gulf of Alaska rex sole, and Gulf of Alaska rougheye rockfish.

Three stocks were determined to be overfished due to population declines in 2005 ­ Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, scup and Pacific ocean perch.

One stock whose population level was unknown in 2004 was determined to be overfished in 2005 ­ the Caribbean grouper unit 4 complex.

Changes in harvest rates between 2004 and 2005 show that six stocks were no longer subject to overfishing in 2005 ­ American plaice, witch flounder, golden tilefish, lingcod, shortspine thornyhead, and the north population of black rockfish.

Ten stocks whose fishing rates were unknown in 2004 were determined not to be subject to overfishing in 2005 ­ little skate, winter skate, barndoor skate, thorny skate, clearnose skate, rosette skate, smooth skate, Gulf of Alaska skate, shortraker rockfish, and longnose and big skates.

Four stocks were determined to be subject to overfishing in 2005 ­ Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, Georges Bank winter flounder, Central Western Pacific yellowfin tuna, and the Caribbean grouper unit 1 complex.

Three stocks whose fishing rates were unknown in 2004 were determined to be subject to overfishing in 2005 ­ Caribbean grouper unit 4 complex, Caribbean snapper unit 1, and Caribbean parrotfishes.

When a fish stock is determined to be either overfished or subject to overfishing, the regional fishery management councils must develop a plan to correct the problem. The councils were notified of the four new overfished and seven new overfishing determinations for 2005, and have taken corrective action or are scheduled to take action this summer.

Matt Rand, marine fisheries campaign director with the National Environmental Trust, commented, "The real story here is what's behind the numbers. Almost one third of our nation's fish are still being overfished or they're already severely depleted. We need to strengthen the requirements in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fish populations."

The U.S. Senate passed a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill on Monday that meets with NOAA's approval. "I'd like to thank and congratulate the United States Senate for its leadership in passing a Magnuson-Stevens bill, "said Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries Service. "We hope to see passage of a House version soon so the Congress can develop a final Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill."

But Rand said the House version proposed by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, a California Republican, sends fisheries management in the wrong direction. "His legislation guts current requirements to rebuild those fish populations struggling to stay alive," said Rand.