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Wetlands Loss and Fisheries Decline: Links Explored in New Publication

January 2001

The North American fishing industry faces serious challenges to its sustainability, as illustrated by the recent near collapse of many New England fisheries and reported overfishing of more than 100 fish stocks in North America. Likewise, the depletion of the continent’s wetlands also receives increased attention, with more than half of the wetlands having been drained or degraded since European settlement. But the link between these two resources is often unappreciated by policymakers and the public. The November/December issue of ELI’s National Wetlands Newsletter, which focuses on fisheries, solidly draws the connection between the management and policies of fisheries and the wetlands on which most North American fish depend on for spawning, food, and habitat.

“The lack of discussion about wetland-dependent fisheries is a peculiar blind spot in the management of both fisheries and wetlands,” said Bonnie Nevel, editor of the Newsletter. “Wetland-dependent fish species make up more than 75 percent of the commercial and recreational fish landings in the United States and Canada. With this publication, we are increasing the dialogue between all the parties and helping managers and policymakers to start thinking about ways they can coordinate their efforts for the greater benefit of both resources.”

In the Gulf of Mexico, 98 percent of commercially harvested fish depend on estuaries, where the shallow waters and wetland vegetation provide nursery areas, spawning grounds, feeding areas, and refuge from predators. Given the strong dependence of fish on wetlands, however, little attention is paid to wetland conservation and management by fisheries managers and policymakers. Similarly, the wetland community often overlooks the prime role that fish play in wetland ecosystems.

The focus issue features articles written by experts in the fields of wetlands and fisheries science, policy, and management. The articles cover a range of topics and regions, all addressing the challenges and imperatives of linking wetlands and fisheries in policy decisions, management options, scientific achievements, and the public’s eye. In addition to setting the scene with clear explanations of national, regional, and local fisheries issues, the authors propose practical solutions to difficult management and policy questions. Many of the articles appearing in the issue grew out of a symposium organized by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and the Recreational Fisheries Institute of Canada. NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation also provided partial funding to support the special issue.

The National Wetlands Newsletter provides balanced information on wetland law, policy, management, and science to professionals from non-profit organizations, government, and the private sector.

Copies of the November/December National Wetlands Newsletter’s focus issue on wetland-dependent fisheries are available to the media by contacting pressrequest@eli.org.