NOAA makes ecosystem-based management a priority


Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laid out a plan for modernizing efforts to sustainably manage ocean fisheries. A portion of the plan titled “NOAA Fisheries Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Road Map” makes ecosystem-based management a NOAA priority.

Historically, fish managers in this nation have managed fish species individually, one at a time. However, ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) takes a comprehensive, science-based approach that looks at the broader ecosystem.

For example, in the northeast, Atlantic menhaden and river herring serve as forage fish for striped bass, bluefish, tuna and other species. Atlantic menhaden also plays a big ecological role. They are filter feeders with each fish, processing thousands of gallons of water and filtering out algae in our oceans, bays and coves. Algae blooms can cause hypoxia (low oxygen levels in water) that can lead to fish kills.

NOAA’s website says Atlantic menhaden “play an important role in the ecosystem as both a forage fish for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and predatory birds such as osprey and eagles, as well as serving as a filter feeder because they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton at various life stages.”

So, rather than just managing Atlantic menhaden to ensure they remain sustainable as a species, ecosystem-based management ensures that enough Atlantic menhaden are left in the water for other species to eat as forage fish, as well as enough to fulfill their ecological role.

NOAA’s road map outlines steps the agency will take to advance the understanding of ecosystems, improve science modeling capabilities, better understand the needs of fishermen and incorporate these factors into the decision-making process.

“The road map is an ambitious, yet an achievable vision for moving fisheries management forward,” said Meredith Moore, director of the fish conservation program at Ocean Conservancy. “By using approaches that more fully consider the interactions between the components of the marine ecosystem, including humans, we will be able to make better decisions for our fisheries and the people who depend upon them.”

“Our oceans face new and growing pressures from pollution, ocean acidification and warming waters and increased demand on resources,” said Moore. “The next administration should stick to the path laid out in this road map to ensure we have resilient ocean ecosystems and healthy fishing communities for generations to come.”

New way to count fish

Scientific surveys of fish are often carried out by trawling. This means towing a net and then hauling it up to count the catch. Estimates are then made about how many fish of each species are in each square mile. They are generally done in the same area for the same amount of time on a periodic basis. They are costly to do; however, scientists may have found a new way to determine what fish are in the water.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) does trawl surveys in Narragansett Bay, the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and regional fisheries commission do trawl surveys too. Fish managers and scientists simply do not have the resources to do a proper job with survey trawls in our coastal waters, nevermind areas outside our territorial waters (200 miles). Large tracts of the ocean are not monitored, so we have no idea what fish are in the water globally, nevermind how many are being taken out.

However, a reliable and inexpensive way to monitor fish populations is being developed by scientists. Philip Thomsen and his team from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, are developing a way to count fish that is far less costly.

The team is examining fragments of floating DNA, which fish slough off in slime and scales, or excrete into the water.

A Nov. 19 Economist blog post said scientists “Hope they are able to link the quantity of this ‘environmental’ DNA to those species’ abundances, as measured by a trawl survey that took place at the same time… Given the fragmentary nature of environmental DNA, they found it easier to recognize families than species (a family, in this context, is the taxonomic level above a genus; herring, sardines and shad, for example, all belong to the family Clupeidae). The trawls picked up fish from 28 families. The team found DNA from members of 26 of these in their samples, and also detected three families that had no representatives entangled in trawl nets.”

The technique has a long way to go before being developed to the point that it can do an accurate census of the world’s oceans. However, Thomsen is on to something here and we wish him well. With global markets more active than ever before in world fisheries, we need a reliable and inexpensive way to count fish so we can make sure fish populations stay healthy at the highest sustainable levels.

Where’s the bite?

Tautog fishing

remains strong off the coastal shore. Manny Macedo of Lucky Bait & Tackle, Warren, said, “Tautog fishing is where the action is. We have regular diehard customers still going out. Many are fishing off Newport and catching a cod fish or two when tautog fishing.”

Elisa Chill of Snug Harbor said, “The tautog bite is good close to shore. We weighed in a 13.92-pound tautog caught by angler Lee Luginbuhl Sunday afternoon around 3 p.m.”

Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “A nice slug of cod fish up to 15 pounds was reported on Friday's tautog trip, while a tremendous amount of catch and release tautog action was reported on Saturday's trip between the keepers. The biggest tautog was around 10 pounds Friday and seven and change on Saturday.”

Striped bass

are still around with many anglers catching school-sized bass and catching keepers. One customer caught a 36-inch bass at Cole River,” said Many Macedo of Lucky Bait & Tackle. “The school striped bass bite is on heavy from Charlestown to Matunuck. Customers are catching 20 to 30 fish on an outing with keepers mixed in every now and then,” said Elisa Cahill of Snug Harbor Marina.

“Cod fishing

at the Mountains (north side of Cox’s Ledge) has been good this week,” said Elisa Cahill of Snug Harbor Marina. Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “Cod fishing really came into stride as the new body of fish is right on time and right where expected, chasing vast schools of herring. Jigs and teasers far out produced bait both days, so we were able to get out as the cod were often up off the bottom hunting their prey. Hi hook for Saturday boxed an easy limit of nice-sized market cod with two other fishers boxing nine apiece.”


fishing remains a good alternative with all the bad weather and rough seas we have been having. November and December are great carp fishing months. Not many anglers have taken advantage of the water still being warm, and the trout DEM stocked in area waterways earlier this fall. Visit for a list of ponds stocked with trout in your area.

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at or visit his website at


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