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21 Groundfish Species Leap Off Over-Fished List

Sep 03, 2014 10:41 AM EDT

(Photo : Flickr/NOAA)

Nearly two-dozen recovered species of groundfish made the leap Tuesday off a watch list of seafood to avoid after rampant overfishing left areas off the US West Coast devastated, a marine watchdog group announced.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program upgraded the status of 21 species of bottom-dwelling fish - including varieties of sole, rockfish and sablefish - to "best choice" or "good alternative" from the group's "avoid" classification.

This means that the food industry and consumers can now go on selling and eating these fish species without worry of depleting their population numbers.

The change comes after fishing grounds off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington state were declared an economic disaster by the federal government in 2000. Overfishing in these areas caused some fish populations to drop to dangerously low levels, as well as impacted the fishing industry.

"The turnaround in such a short time is unprecedented," Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Seafood Watch program, said in a statement. "Fishermen, federal agencies and our environmental colleagues have put so much effort into groundfish recovery, and now we're seeing the results of their work."

Key actions that helped the West Coast ground-fish rebound include government-imposed fishing quotas, the creation of marine protected areas, and the use of better monitoring and control of catches.

Now, 84 percent of commercial groundfish caught off the West Coast are sustainable options, according to the Seafood Watch program.

"This recognition highlights the success of the West Coast groundfish catch share program at improving the sustainability of the fishery," said Frank Lockhart, who heads the NOAA's West Coast recovery efforts.

"Not only has it reduced impacts on the species we need to protect, but it has allowed fishermen increased flexibility to fish more effectively for the species they want," he added.

Overfishing around the country is of great concern to conservation groups, The Associated Press reports, as more than 85 percent of the world's fisheries are being fished more quickly than breeding populations can sustain.

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