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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Stock Status

Marine Fisheries

Gauging the Health of Fisheries: How We Got Where We Are

By Richard Davis
Fish Eye News
Aug. 2008 Arcive

Since its earliest versions, North Carolina’s stock status report has served as a gauge of the health of North Carolina’s fishery resources, and has, through the years, developed a life of its own.

North Carolina’s stock status report dates back to the mid 1980s when then division biologist Mike Street, with input from a number of other division biologists, began writing an assessment outlining the condition of a dozen species of importance to the state.

By 1990 the report included a one-page table indexing 28 species, and seven additional pages with supporting paragraphs about each stock. Today’s report presents 39 stocks on a multi-page table, and a one-page in-depth analysis is provided for each species.

Street, who retired from the division in January, points to the stock status definitions as just one indication of how the report has changed and improved through the years.

In the 1990 report Street used the word healthy to describe the stocks that are now known as viable. According to Street this caused some confusion.

“With fish diseases people say, ‘Well, healthy, is it diseased or does that mean it doesn’t have diseases?’” Street said. “When I chose that word I didn’t choose the best word.”

The report began to look more like the current version not long after Louis Daniel joined the division in 1995. He was tasked with restarting the Biological Review Team (BRT).

“I made the call at that point to issue a new stock status report,” Daniel said. “I ushered it through, transitioning from the versions Mike Street had done.”

One of Daniel’s goals was to make sure there was solid biological evidence to back up the assigned status of each stock. That is why the 1998 report, the first under his supervision, included five stock definitions rather than the original four and also included an additional page for each stock. These pages include details about recreational and commercial landings and trends. They also discuss the state of fisheries management plans, and help explain why a stock is declared viable, recovering, concern, depleted or unknown.

The main visible changes in the report since the 1998 version have been further changes in stock definitions. The 1998 report listed stocks as either viable, stressed recovering, stressed declining, depressed and unknown. In 2001 stressed recovering became recovering, and stressed declining became concern.

A final, but important change in the definitions came with the 2007 report when overfished was replaced with depleted. This change was made to reflect that overfishing is not the only reason for declines in stocks. Habitat loss, water quality, predation, and disease are other factors that might contribute to a stock being classified as depleted.

Even though there have been changes in the words used to describe the status of the various stocks and even though the number of species profiled has grown, the fundamental purpose of the stock status report has remained unchanged through the years.

Trish Murphey, current chairman of the BRT, explained, “It’s a way to gauge how our fisheries are progressing. We hope to see the number of viable increase and the number of depleted decrease.”

Murphey added that biologists and fishery managers aren’t the only people who find the report useful.

“All types of people use it. If people want to know why we have a 15-inch size limit on flounder they can read why. It helps explain what rules are in place and why,” she said.

Murphey’s words were echoed by Daniel who said, “One of the biggest benefits to me is to be able to track where we are compared to previous years, and hope that we’re seeing more recovering and viable stocks. It forces us to look at the stocks and keep them up to date all the time.”

Daniel added that monitoring the stocks closely helps to produce better guidance for fishery management plans, helping the division fulfill its role as steward over the state’s marine resources.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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