US says number of overfished fish stocks at all-time low

The number of American fish stocks that can be described as "overfished" has hit an all-time low, the U.S. government announced on Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made the statement as part of its annual Status of Stocks Report to Congress. Six populations of fish are being removed from its list of overfished stocks, including the popular commercially fished stocks of Gulf of Mexico red snapper and Georges Bank winter flounder, the agency said.

NOAA Fisheries classifies jeopardized fish stocks as "overfished" or experiencing "overfishing." The agency's report stated that 35 stocks out of 235 are overfished, which is the lowest number since the agency started tracking fish populations in this way in 2000.

The news of improved fish stocks is welcome, but U.S. fisheries still must contend with environmental changes, said Alan Risenhoover, director of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries for NOAA Fisheries. Several fish species that are still subject to overfishing, including populations of Atlantic cod and halibut, are located in New England waters, where they also face pressure from swiftly warming waters.

"One of the major concerns we have is the environment changing along the Northeast coast or the New England coast, and is that having an effect on those stocks," Risenhoover said. "Our scientists are looking at that."

The stocks removed from the overfished list also include types of gray triggerfish, yelloweye rockfish and Pacific ocean perch. Western Atlantic bluefin tuna was changed to "unknown" because of a lack of data. Stocks of red grouper, shortfin mako and red hake were added to the overfished list.

The report also stated that 30 stocks out of 317 are subject to overfishing, which is the same as last year and near an all-time low according to the agency. Some fish stocks have unknown status.

The NOAA said one population of Coho salmon was removed from the overfishing list, while another of the same fish was added to the same list. Both stocks are in Puget sound. Other species removed from the overfishing list included stocks of sailfish, winter flounder and blue king crab, while other additions included stocks of greater amberjack, red grouper and red hake.

Three stocks were added to the NOAA's "rebuilt" list. They were populations of bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish and Pacific ocean perch. The agency said it has rebuilt 44 marine fish stocks since 2000. NOAA Fisheries assistant administrator Chris Oliver said rebuilding fish stocks is part of the agency's commitment to ending overfishing.

"It strengthens the value of U.S. fisheries' contribution to the economy, which in 2015 exceeded $208 billion dollars," he said.