Six U.S. fish populations were "rebuilt to healthy levels" in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In its annual report to Congress, NOAA stated that numbers of Bering Sea snow crab, Atlantic coast summer flounder, Gulf of Maine haddock, northern California coast Chinook salmon, Washington coast coho salmon, and Pacific coast widow rockfish were now at "optimum population levels", bringing the number of rebuilt U.S. marine fish populations this century to 27.
In total, NOAA concluded that 36 of 258 populations that were assessed are subject to overfishing – i.e. being fished at too high a level. That's four fewer than in 2010. And 45 of 219 populations are already overfished, a decline of three from 2010 figures.
NOAA's Galen Tromble told the Associated Press that the figures show "we're starting to see the results" of rebuilding plans begun 10-15 years ago.
However, the picture is far from universally rosy. Thirteen of the 45 overfished stocks are in the waters off New England, which is "defying the positive trends." A 2011 assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, which showed that "the linchpin stock of New England's inshore fleet not rebuilding quickly," was not peer-reviewed in time to be included in the report to Congress, but has resulted in a 22 percent reduction in the 2012 quota.
Tromble argued that the New England situation reflected the fact that the fish stocks in that region have been heavily-fished, by both domestic and, for many years, foreign fisheries for a prolonged period relative to the rest of the country.
"It's a challenging situation and there aren't any easy solutions," he said, "but progress is being made."
Pacific Coho salmon (Robin Loznak, Corbis)