PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Forty stocks of fish populations are subject to overfishing in U.S. waters, but progress is being made to rebuild stocks and reduce overfishing, federal officials said Thursday.

The number of fish populations being fished at too high of a level at the end of 2010 was up by two from 2009, according to an annual report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Among the stocks being overfished are cod in the Northeast, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific bluefin tuna off the West coast.

But officials said many key populations of fish have shown improvement over the years. Twenty-one stocks have been rebuilt to healthy levels since 2000, and three key stocks in the Northeast –Georges Bank haddock, Atlantic pollock and spiny dogfish — reached healthy levels in 2010, said Eric Schwaab, the head of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

“We are turning a corner as we see important fish stocks rebounding,” Schwaab said in a statement. NOAA issues its report each year providing an overview of fishing activity and population levels for fish stocks around the country.

Overall, about 16 percent of all fish stocks at the end of last year were subject to overfishing, meaning they were being fished at too high a level for what the population can sustain over time.

Twenty-three percent were deemed to have population levels that were too low.

Even though those numbers were not an improvement over 2009, officials said fish populations as a whole are showing signs of significant improvement.

The Fisheries Service measures the sustainability of the country’s fisheries through its so-called fish stock sustainability index, which measures the performance of 230 fish populations. The value of the index has risen from 357 in 2000 to 583 in 2010. The maximum possible score is 920.

Commercial and recreational fishing generate an estimated $72 billion a year and support 1.9 million jobs, according to NOAA.

Fully rebuilt fisheries would add another 500,000 jobs and $31 billion to the economy, Emily Menashes, acting director of the fisheries service’s Office of Sustainable Fisheries, said during a teleconference call.

“With continued investment, scientific assessment and sustainable management, we anticipate the occurrence of overfishing will continue to decline, more fisheries will rebuild and this will allow both sustainability in our resources as well as economic opportunity,” she said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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