March 6, 2009
Dear NMFS Assistant Regional Administrator,
The Atlantic wolffish needs your help. The U.S. populations of this once-abundant ocean fish have been decimated by habitat losses and overfishing. Recent science surveys have routinely failed to find any wolffish, indicating that the remaining populations have collapsed to the degree that they are only present in their most inaccessible rocky lairs. Unfortunately, recreational fishing is stilled allowed in those places and wolffish remains a desirable fish for the dinner table.
The Atlantic wolffish is similar to the cod. Both live close to the ocean floor preferring rocky bottom to areas of sand or mud. Both eat more Crustaceans, shellfish and sea urchins, “benthic fauna,” than fish. Adults never school; instead, they live a life more solitary and restricted to one locale with a “high level of site fidelity.” I fear the wolffish may become to Eastern U.S. ocean waters what the cod has become to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where even with complete cessation of fishing activities the devastated cod population has not increased.
I am writing in support of the Conservation Law Foundation's formal petition and call on you to protect the Atlantic wolffish as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. To fully protect this important species, NMFS must designate and protect both the deep water areas that wolffish inhabit and the shallower areas where they spawn as critical habitat. NMFS also needs to develop comprehensive guidelines for monitoring and limiting incidental catch from commercial and recreational fishing, including an assessment of appropriate gear types to reduce incidental catch. Part of this process should include the development of a handling and catch and release program to reduce incidental catch and a program to track commercial and recreational landings of Atlantic wolffish.
Now more than ever we need NMFS to show leadership in the protection of the Atlantic wolffish.