Excerpt: The Potential of the Gulf of Maine

The following is an excerpt from a letter from the chairman of the board for Diversified Communications, Daniel Hildreth. Diversified Communications owns National Fisherman Magazine and other publications. The letter was published in the August 2016 issue of National Fisherman. 

Over the past year, Cashes Ledge and several canyons and seamounts on or near the southern edge of Georges Bank have been proposed as national monuments. We won’t know the outcome for sure until January 2017, but the question remains: Is there a need for a few carefully selected areas in the Gulf of Maine with permanent protection from natural resource use? I believe the answer is yes.

My family’s business, Diversified Communications, has served the commercial fishing and seafood industries for over 45 years, through the publication of National Fisherman, Pacific Marine Expo, and the Seafood Expos in Boston and Brussels. Our connections with the commercial fishing and seafood industries have been sources of inspiration and pride for us.

Because we are based in Maine, we are especially close to events in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, since 1969 when NF was first launched, many trends in environmental health, fish stocks and the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine have not been good. In the 1960s and early ’70s, groundfish stocks were overfished by foreign fleets. There was a rebound after passage of the Magnuson [Stevens] Act, but then a renewed decline in spawning biomass set in. Even now many stocks remain depleted, and the commercial fishing industry is, as well.

There have been meaningful steps toward rebuilding in recent years. The implementation of quotas has resulted in even more fishermen losing their livelihoods, but at least some stocks are healthy or rebuilding. Another source of encouragement has been the opening up of rivers, through dam removal and culvert replacement, allowing the potential rebuilding of forage fish such as alewives and blueback herring.

Still, the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and fisheries resources are far depleted from what they were centuries ago. We can’t go back in time, but what is the potential of the Gulf of Maine to support a healthy marine ecosystem and abundant fish stocks?

Perhaps places like Cashes Ledge can help answer that question. Because of its challenging topography and closure in the past dozen years, Cashes Ledge supports a unique and vibrant ecosystem. It’s known for healthy bottom flora and fauna, and diverse, abundant, and large-sized finfish. There is no other area in the Gulf of Maine that gives as good an example of what the ecosystem and fishery could look like in relatively natural conditions.

Read the full letter here. 

Faces of Ocean Planning: Lobsterman Richard Nelson

From his view aboard the FV Pescadero, lobsterman Richard Nelson has witnessed a lot of change along the coastline of Friendship, Maine, over the last 30-plus years.

A proud Mainer with roots generations deep, Richard feels at home on the water along the mouth of Muscongus Bay and within sight of the region’s rocky beaches and island communities.

Throughout the last three decades, Richard has watched Friendship – a small, quiet fishing community – face increasing demands on its coastal ecosystem from both fishing and competing maritime projects.

And with more new development inevitably on the horizon, Richard wonders: Are the powers that be – the state and federal agencies that make decisions about new development projects – communicating not only with each other, but with the people and businesses that call this place home?

Like all fishermen along the Maine coast, Richard views lobstering as much more than a way to earn a living. It’s a way of life that defines the rich culture, maritime history, and very identity of the people who reside along this rugged shoreline and on nearby islands.

With the Gulf of Maine facing a rapid increase in human presence and competing demands – both established and new ­– the buzz around ocean management is growing. But how can communities like Friendship, where livelihoods are inextricably linked to the sea, ensure a level playing field in ocean management conversations when they’re competing to be heard among industry, federal and state agencies, and other ocean stakeholders?

The National Ocean Policy

The answer to this question has come in the form of the National Ocean Policy, enacted by executive order in 2010. It offers the solution of regional ocean planning, which, for Richard, gave the chance for his community to be engaged.

Richard has been heavily involved in New England’s regional ocean planning process since it began. He’s attended  workshops, seminars, and conferences hosted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Northeast Regional Ocean Council, Bowdoin College, and the URI International Symposium on Marine Spatial Planning, and he has vocalized his perspective as a local fisherman at every Northeast Regional Planning Body meeting for more than three years.

His message has always been consistent: If local lobstermen in communities like Friendship are displaced as a result of poor stakeholder communication or driven out by larger competitors, they can’t simply move on and begin anew. Their economic survival and way of life depends upon being able to thrive where they are.

Richard has pressed the Regional Planning Body to envision a regional ocean plan that offers a balanced understanding between long-standing industries like the lobster fishery – and its reliance on a healthy ocean ecosystem and resources – alongside offshore wind energy, recreation, shipping, and other newer ocean uses, so they can all continue to thrive in New England.

Everybody wins

Furthermore, the data available to all parties as a result of the regional ocean plan will improve state and federal understanding of the health of the ocean’s ecosystem. Backed by the best available science, fisheries management can be improved to ensure continued access to fishing grounds while building a sustainable fishery.

The use of centralized data by federal and state entities is important not just for fisheries management. It’s also key to other regulatory actions related to marine life, marine habitat, and human uses, in that it will better inform ocean management decisions across the board.

For maritime communities like Friendship, the regional ocean plan represents a formal effort to recognize and include local community perspectives and needs, like Richard Nelson’s hope of keeping the F/V Pescadero afloat and working for years to come.

The draft of the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan will be released May 25, 2016, followed by a public comment period. Conservation Law Foundation and NEOAN (The New England Ocean Action Network) will work together to analyze and inform New Englanders about the key elements of the plan through blog posts, webinars, and more. More information will be available soon. By the fall, the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan will be finalized by the National Ocean Council.

Saving Cashes Ledge: A Diver’s Perspective

In the summer of 2014, Lisa Smith picked up her Sunday Boston Globe and was taken aback by the beautiful images that graced the cover: waving forests of kelp, a rocky sea floor, and inquisitive fish who live at Cashes Ledge.

A diver for more than 9 years, Smith was immediately drawn in by the wonder: How could this tropical-looking habitat be in New England?

A Boston-area lawyer who works on peaceful dispute resolution, mostly in divorce law, Smith started diving as a way to enjoy the natural environment with her young son, who had requested diving lessons. She’s done most of her diving here in New England, where it’s not typical to see the gold, emerald, and red hues of an undulating kelp forest, or a uniquely red-colored cod. So she knows firsthand that Cashes Ledge is something special.

Smith wouldn’t normally consider herself a conservationist – her volunteer work typically revolves around human relationship issues, including domestic violence. But after seeing the images of Cashes Ledge, and learning more about the ways in which it continues to be at risk, she became active in the campaign to permanently protect this treasure.

Paying it Forward

When it comes to protecting Cashes Ledge, Smith says that from her perspective, it’s about preserving the country’s most important places, like America has done for more than a century.

“We have a responsibility to continue paying it forward,” Smith said. “Our parents and their parents were part of the generations that protected many important lands so that we can enjoy them today. And now we have a responsibility to protect our oceans for our children – and their children.”

Smith says she doesn’t want us to take for granted what’s under the surface; that diving in special places like this helps people feel a kind of connectedness and peacefulness that normal life typically doesn’t afford. The lasting physical and mental health benefits she’s attained from experiencing nature in this way, she says, are immeasurable – and that’s why special places like Cashes Ledge must be preserved for future generations.

A “Snow White” Experience 

Smith says she’s described deep-sea diving to her non-diving friends and family in this way: “It’s like that cartoon of Snow White, where she interacts with the creatures are all around her. They aren’t afraid of her. It’s magical.”

When we walk through the woods, she says, creatures hide from us. But underwater, they are all right there in front of us – we can be close to so many animals who watch us with curiosity but aren’t afraid of our presence. “It’s an idealized, almost unreal situation,” Smith says. “It’s really amazing.”

In preserving our natural resources at Cashes Ledge, we wouldn’t be initiating a ‘pay it forward’ movement: we’d be simply continuing one.

“We need to continue this path of conservation that was started before,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t stop with us. We need to keep this tradition going.”

Take Action Today – then like us on Facebook to follow the campaign.

VIDEO: “Cashes Ledge: Jewel of the Gulf of Maine”

Check out this new video from the Witman Lab at Brown University, including highlights from their research and stunning video footage of Cashes Ledge – the jewel of the Gulf of Maine. Evan Kovacs’ video captures a macro view of the Cashes Ledge seascape, and some of the marine species who call the rocky ridges their home.

We must save this beautiful, vital place in the Gulf of Maine. Despite our efforts to show what a spectacular place this is, the White House has said Cashes Ledge isn’t under consideration for a Monument at this time. We know that the science is in our corner, and that the majority of voices speaking up about our campaign to protect this place are resoundingly supportive.

Click here to send a message to your U.S. Senators. Tell them that a Marine National Monument designation without Cashes Ledge is unacceptable and leaves New England’s most precious marine resources at risk.

Detangling the Risks of Fishing Line for Right Whales

We have many reasons to appreciate the role of modern technology in today’s fisheries. Electronics, equipment upgrades, and other technological advances have led to more efficient, effective, and economical fisheries. However, in the case of modern fishing line, these technological advances have at times come at a serious cost.

Unlike the natural hemp and sisal lines used in decades past, modern fishing line is made from polypropylene, a synthetic material that makes fishing lines and ropes much stronger and more durable than ever before.

Stronger fishing lines may lead to more effective fishing, but when animals – specifically the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale – encounter this fishing line, the risk of entanglement and death is high.

For endangered right whales, stakes are high

This threat to right whales has been the focus of Amy Knowlton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium, for several years. In an article published by Canada’s CBC on fishing line and the risk for lethal entanglement, Knowlton is quoted saying how this risk is “the biggest threat to these animals right now . . . and unless we can fix it, they could go extinct.”

Knowlton describes how this fishing line frequently gets into their mouths when right whales come in contact with it, which causes them to panic and roll around in an attempt to get free. This motion only causes the line to wrap more around their body, and potentially their flukes, impairing their ability to eat and move.

The frequency of this type of entanglement is alarming, with more than 80 percent of the right whale population showing signs of scarring from synthetic fishing lines. Often, the whales cannot break free from the constraining fishing line because of the incredible strength of the new materials used to make it. This fatal entrapment is a leading cause of death for the already struggling North Atlantic right whale population.

Finding a balanced solution

Knowlton is optimistic about finding solutions for this problem, noting that cooperation and collaboration between the fishing industry and manufacturers could lead to the development of a material for lines and rope that can be strong enough for its intended purpose, but not enough to endanger the lives of right whales.

That all involved parties are invested in finding a solution to this problem exemplifies the foundation of effective ocean management that can be accomplished through a regional ocean plan. While this is just a small micro example of interested parties working together (the regional ocean plan won’t identify solutions for fishing line), on a macro level, these principles can be applied to better management of our ocean resources through collaboration and the use of data. With better information and enhanced coordination, we’re much more likely to be able to effectively identify solutions to these types of challenges.

Ocean planning – a process dedicated to finding solutions to problems before they happen by creating a framework to better anticipate needs, set priorities, and make decisions regarding regional ocean uses – has the potential to positively inform these important conversations.

On a small scale, Knowlton, the fishermen, and the industry are finding a solution to address this specific issue. But on a large scale, a developed ocean plan (that all ocean users abide by) can include acknowledgement of fishing grounds and right whale migration routes and other important factors, allowing for a better mutual understanding of what’s at stake – and pave the way for future decision-making that is better informed and more effective for all involved parties.

Conservation Law Foundation has been actively engaged in the ocean planning process in New England from the beginning, and is committed to ensuring that management measures include safeguards for ocean ecosystems. The Northeast Regional Ocean Plan draft will be available soon, and we all have a responsibility to take part it in it – for the sake of the endangered right whale, our fisheries and coastal economies, and our ocean ecosystems.

Read more about the current status of the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan.

Sea Rovers 2016: That’s a Wrap!

Last weekend, divers from across the region attended the Sea Rovers dive show in Danvers, MA. Throughout the two-day show, we had conversations with hundreds of people interested in learning more about our campaign to protect special places in the Atlantic.

At our coalition’s booth, we received more than 150 comment cards and captured many photos of supporters voicing why they believe that Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts should be permanently protected. Here are a few of the highlights (Click here to see the entire Facebook album!):

“#SaveOceanTreasures because its an unseen world important to whales, sharks, and all things fishy!!”
Sea Rovers 3
“#SaveOceanTreasures because they’re critical for the North Atlantic ecosystem!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan Kovacs at Sea Rovers
Undersea cinematographer Evan Kovacs shows video footage from a recent expedition to Cashes Ledge

On Saturday, we were fortunate to present to a packed room at our seminar, “Cashes Ledge: The Yellowstone of the Atlantic,” which featured new film footage from cinematographer Evan Kovacs, as well as an overview of the scientific importance of Cashes Ledge by Dr. Jon Witman of Brown University. CLF’s Dr. Priscilla Brooks wrapped things up with an overview of why these areas need permanent protection now – and what supporters can do to help.

Jon Witman at Sea Rovers
Dr. Jon Witman gave the compelling scientific case for protecting this ecologically important area

Over the span of the two-day conference, the enthusiasm and passion for protecting undersea treasures was evident, with many attendees expressing the desire to be able to dive in such an amazing place someday.

We hope President Obama will come through on his Administration’s stated goal of protecting more ocean habitat before his term ends. Because of that, we’re committed to showing the breadth and depth of support we have to save these ocean treasures.

Dr. Priscilla Brooks spoke about Dr. Sylvia Earle's dive at Cashes Ledge -- and how supporters can get involved to help save this special place
Dr. Priscilla Brooks spoke about Dr. Sylvia Earle’s dive at Cashes Ledge — and how supporters can get involved to help save this special place

Will you join us? “Like” our Facebook page today to stay in the loop about the campaign – and be the first to know when we have opportunities to take action to save these special places.

‘You never forget seeing your first whale’ – Zack Klyver of Bar Harbor Whale Watch on the impact of protected areas

Zack Klyver is head naturalist at Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. in Maine. Over his more than 25 years guiding whale watch tours, he says that the experience of seeing a whale for the first time is truly amazing – and is part of what makes Maine so popular to tourists.

Today, Klyver is seeing an ocean that is rapidly industrializing, posing more and more threats to whales – especially the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Watch the clip to see why he thinks protected areas are an important way to sustain the whale population – to help the whales and Maine’s economy.

 

See you at Sea Rovers 2016!

The Boston Sea Rovers dive show is coming up, March 5-6, 2016, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Danvers, MA.

Join us as we present our seminar on Saturday at 11 am – Cashes Ledge: The Yellowstone of the North Atlantic, led by Dr. Jon Witman, WHOI videographer Evan Kovacs, and CLF’s director of ocean conservation, Dr. Priscilla Brooks. At the seminar, we’ll share stunning film footage from a recent expedition to Cashes Ledge, as well as findings from new scientific research. Dive in with us as we explore this special place that needs permanent protection.

Boston Sea Rovers is a non-profit organization founded by SCUBA-lovers, dedicated to amplifying awareness and appreciation for the ocean. Each year, ocean lovers convene at the show to participate in a weekend of films, compelling seminars, useful workshops, and more.

For more information and to register to attend, visit the Sea Rovers website. (You can register for one or both days.)

And don’t forget to stop by our booth (#52) to check out Brian Skerry’s photographs of our beautiful New England ocean, get updates from our CLF oceans team, and take a photo with us to share your reasons for supporting our campaign to permanently protect Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts. We can’t wait to see you there!