An annual survey of Maine and New Hampshire fish stocks yielded fewer fish than any year since 2006.
The fall 2013 Maine-New Hampshire Inshore Trawl Survey resulted in the second-lowest average catch weight since 2000, scientists who participated in the survey said. Atlantic cod, mackerel and spiny dogfish counts were "greatly reduced" from previous fall trawls, according to a report about the survey.
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The fall trawl survey provides state and federal regulators with a tool to monitor long-term population trends in commercial fish stocks. State Department of Marine Resources workers trawl the coast from the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts to the border of Maine and Canada to collect data about fish species abundance.
Lobster, silver hake and Atlantic herring combined to make up more than 70 percent of the total catch weight. The average catch weight of 284 pounds was down from about 300 pounds last fall and a high of about 500 pounds in fall 2007.
The lack of some species, and the low overall catch, aren't necessarily indicative of a decline in a species' population, said Keri Stepanek, one of the scientists involved in the survey. Species could also have moved to different areas, she said. Stepanek said that is particularly likely with spiny dogfish, which posted their lowest numbers in 13 years despite reports from fishermen that they are plentiful.
Recent warmer temperatures also may have played a role, said Stepanek and other scientists.
"I wouldn't say it's a lack of abundance. I'd say it's a change in the distribution for this particular year," she said.
The survey results underscore fears about the Gulf of Maine's declining cod stock, said Jud Crawford, science and policy manager for Pew Environment Group. National Marine Fisheries Service scientists say the amount of cod spawning in the gulf is estimated at 3 to 4 percent of its target level.
"The stock is in desperate trouble, and we have to change the way we're approaching this problem," he said.
The next fall trawl survey begins later this month and is complimented by an annual spring survey. The surveys began in 2000.