NOAA 99-070
Contact: Gordon Helm

NOAA Fisheries notes rise in "unknown" status for many marine stocks

In its annual report to Congress on the status of marine fish stocks, the National Marine Fisheries Service said that 98 species reviewed are overfished and five species are approaching an overfished condition, while another 127 species are not overfished. The condition of another 674 species is not known. Data from the report will be used by national and regional fishery managers to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fisheries, officials of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

This year, fishery managers increased the number of species whose status was unknown from 544 to 674, in part because of a lack of adequate data to address the information requirements of the new Sustainable Fisheries Act. However, conservation efforts and/or updated data on other fisheries allowed managers to remove 10 species from the overfished list while adding 18 species.

"As we continue to learn more about the health and status of the nation's marine stocks, this year's report also demonstrates the limitations of our knowledge," said Terry Garcia, assistant secretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. "We recognize the unlikely prospect of gaining that additional knowledge in the short term due to funding limitations, and we will need to be conservative in future management decisions to protect these stocks from overfishing."

The report and marine fish stock rebuilding efforts are required under the amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act passed in 1996. The Regional Fishery Management Councils are required to reassess each Fishery Management Plan (FMP) -- plans that are developed by the councils to manage fishery resources in federal waters -- for compliance with overfishing provisions.

Each year's report builds on the information gathered in previous years, reviewing the status of all managed fisheries, and listing those fisheries as "not overfished," "approaching an overfished condition," "overfished," or "unknown." In 1998, the report identified 90 species as overfished, 200 species as not overfished, and 10 species as approaching an overfished condition. The status of 544 species was unknown.

The report identifies 18 new overfished species, including five species that were previously classified as approaching overfished. One new species was determined to be approaching an overfished condition, making the total number five this year. In addition, a lack of information to satisfy the more complex overfishing definitions required under the Sustainable Fisheries Act caused 79 species to be moved from the "not overfished" category to the "unknown" designation. The new definition of overfishing requires scientists to both assess a stock's biomass and the amount of that biomass that is harvested each year in determining whether it is overfished. Scientists continue to assess the condition of unknown stocks as more data become available.

NOAA Fisheries will notify the regional councils that they may be required to submit measures to end overfishing and rebuild those stocks determined to be overfished. The councils will have a year to submit updated or prepare new fishery management plans for review and approval.

The annual report to Congress is an ongoing examination of the status of the nation's marine fisheries, and takes into account both improvements and declines in fish stocks. The first report, published in 1997, identified 86 species as overfished, 183 species as not overfished, and 10 species as approaching an overfished condition. For 448 species, the status was unknown.

Rebuilding programs must be as short as possible, but not exceed 10 years, except in cases where the biology of the stock, or environmental conditions, or management measures under an international agreement in which the United States participates dictate otherwise.

Interested media can obtain an executive summary or the full report from the Internet at