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Fish are moving, quotas should change

As a lifelong fisherman of 50 years, I see our fisheries changing over time with the warming of our waters. There are changes in the habitat and the species we target. I’ve seen great changes in the Long Island Sound I used to know, and in its marine life.

Gone are the lobsters that used to support a thriving fishery, the lobster pots replaced by conch traps. Where it was common in my youth to fill a five-gallon bucket with winter flounder, it’s now a good day if you catch merely one. Cod, mackerel, and whiting fishing are merely stories told by old timers on the docks. And we’re seeing the voids they leave filled by black sea bass, summer flounder, northern kingfish and scup, whose centers of abundance are shifting northward from the Mid-Atlantic states.

Here in New England, we are catching an abundance of black sea bass. These hungry critters are also outcompeting other native fish such as tautog and cod. They are eating large numbers of juvenile lobsters. We’re starting to see other traditionally southern species, such as the 38-inch red drum caught a few years ago in Long Island Sound (along with others in Rhode Island and Long Island).

Local fishermen are seeing king mackerel and cobia off Cape Cod. Scientists have predicted and warned of these population shifts as a result of climate change and warming waters. Now we’re seeing it.

Allocations of these fish are determined by the historical landings in each state. That means that the Mid-Atlantic states, which were once the population epicenters for these fish, are allotted a higher allowable harvest than the states in which they now abundantly reside. Our fishermen must stop fishing for black sea bass in their local waters, only to watch boats come up from the South and fish our local waters in order to fill their allotments.

Recreational fishermen have low bag limits, while the voracious fish are eating whatever is on the bottom, including baitfish and juvenile gamefish.

Climate change is hurting our local fishing economies and threatening the jobs of our fishermen, even while we have a growing abundance of these warm-water fish. The solution is to account for its impacts on our changing fisheries. That is why we are asking Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, a valuable supporter of fisheries and fishermen, to support the Climate-Ready Fisheries Act (H.R.4679) and other future bills that may fix this problem.

We ask Courtney and all Connecticut’s representatives to support Connecticut fishermen by signing on as cosponsors to the bill, which was authored by Rep. Cunningham, D-S.C. This bill directs the Government Accountability Office to issue a report examining efforts by our fisheries management councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service to adapt our nation’s fisheries to allow them to thrive in the face of these changes.

George R. Baldwin lives in Northford.

 

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