Fact: Healthy Oceans are Better for Divers

Yes, I admit it – I’m not a diver. But I am a surfer, and that makes me a stakeholder in healthy oceans, too. There is a big conservation ethic among surfers, because, in the words of one of the surfiest brands:  “Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.”

Billions of dollars and millions of jobs are created each year by the use and enjoyment of America’s oceans and coasts.  In fact, in 2010 alone, ocean-related tourism and recreation supported more than 1.9 million jobs, and contributed almost $90 billion to the nation’s GDP. At the same time, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes ecosystems face significant challenges to their health and their ability to provide the benefits, goods and services that we all want and rely upon.

These problems may come in the form of harmful “red tide” algae blooms which cause beach closures and damage shellfish farms in Massachusetts, expanding “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nutrient pollution runoff going into the Mississippi River, or the need for better science-based information to repair storm damage to cities and towns and to protect the public in advance of the next monster winter storm.

Being able to solve these ocean and coastal management challenges is difficult for federal and state agencies to do with the tools and resources they currently have, yet as our nation grows more along our coasts and demands more from our oceans these current management challenges are only going to become more difficult to solve.

Thankfully, we have the National Ocean Policy to help coordinate the work of our federal agencies and involve states and all stakeholders — including the public — to work together to help address some of the biggest challenges facing our oceans, and coasts.

But the best initiative the US has ever developed to promote ocean health and the importance of access for all current and future recreational users is under fire right now, and needs your voice of support!

Congress is working to pass the already problematic Water Resources Development Act and one harmful rider to that bill would eliminate the involvement of the US Army Corps of Engineers in any coastal planning, stakeholder engagement or other work that relates to the National Ocean Policy. The WRDA bill has passed the House and Senate and is in conference committee negotiations now.

Since the National Ocean Policy is implemented through current, existing laws and programs – this rider could disallow any involvement by US Army Corps in a range of issues and coastal projects that fall under their regular order of business.

Worse, some of our fellow ocean users have illogically come out in support of this harmful rider. Now is the time for responsible members of the dive community to stand up and ensure ocean health is recognized and supported.

But, check it out, there is one good idea being considered in this conference that needs our support – the establishment of a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) to improve ocean health and support ocean jobs and wildlife.

So consider emailing or calling your representatives and telling them “I support the Senate-passed National Endowment for the Oceans in the WRDA bill, which would help improve ocean health and maximize the economic benefits to our nation. I support the full implementation of the National Ocean Policy and oppose the House-passed Flores rider, which would place damaging restrictions on the use of common-sense ocean management tools like ocean planning and ecosystem-based management found in our National Ocean Policy.”

Cut, paste, or dial, and make a difference.

Photo credit: Josh Cummings

Please Stand With Us, For the Sake of Cod

A few weeks ago my colleague Peter Shelley stood in front of fishermen and policymakers and spoke about the startling decline of New England’s cod fishery. Did you know that, since 1982, it’s estimated we have lost more than 80% of the cod in New England’s ocean? That surely should be a wake up call to us all.

That day, Peter’s argument was simple, and backed by sound science. We must act quickly, he argued, to prevent the Atlantic cod – New England’s most iconic fish — from complete and utter collapse.

The response? Hisses and boos. Hisses and boos.

Peter is no fool – he knew what was coming. A fisheries expert who filed the first lawsuit that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor, Peter has heard this same response too often. But still, this response is as startling as it is unhelpful.

The science is clear. Atlantic cod populations are at an all-time historic low. The cod fishery, which for generations has supported a way of life in New England’s coastal communities, may be in complete collapse. Don’t believe me? Watch this video of Peter explaining the science behind this critical issue.

 

 

Over the coming 14 days, NOAA – the agency in charge of setting limits on how much cod commercial fisherman can catch – is deciding how much to allow commercial fisherman to catch this year. We at CLF believe that the managers of this public resource have a responsibility to revive and rebuild cod stocks.

Instead, they are continuing a decades-long pattern of risky decision-making that has run this fishery and its communities into the ground.

We have an opportunity to urge NOAA to save the Atlantic cod from complete collapse. But we have to act now. The longer we wait, the more we risk losing this iconic fishery.

We at CLF are working to urge NOAA to do three things:

  1. Shut down the commercial cod fishery, so as to save it for future generations
  2. Protect cod populations, especially the adult females that produce as many as 8 million eggs a year
  3. And, protect the ocean refuges that will allow cod to recover, not bow to industry pressure by opening them to more commercial fishing.

If you believe, as we at CLF believe, that the cod fishery is worth saving, please stand with thousands of New Englanders and take action today.

Now is not the time to push the limits of the law and set dangerously high catch levels. Now is not the time to bow to industry pressure. Now is not the time to risk this species for short-term gain.

Now is the time to show strength, and real leadership. Now is the time to try to save New England’s cod fishery for future generations to enjoy.

Please stand with us, and thousands of others, in calling on NOAA to protect this species before it’s too late.

Originally posted on CLF Scoop, April 3, 2013

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home. “Home” means something different for each wildlife species in their ocean habitat of the Gulf of Maine. For example, animals like the Atlantic wolffish  tend to live in rocky areas where they can hide out, guard their eggs and ambush prey. Wolffish depend on this particular type of habitat to live, and other species are just as dependent on other types of habitat. Places such as Cashes Ledge, Jeffreys Ledge and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary provide rich habitat for highly depleted cod and haddock, sea turtles and four species of whales.

Most of these three areas in the Gulf of Maine currently benefit from fishing regulations which prohibit harmful bottom trawling, but these protections are temporary. With groundfish populations at their lowest recorded levels, some members of the trawling industry are pushing for regulations to increase trawling in the few protected habitat areas in the Gulf of Maine. After being declared a “fishery disaster,” changes in regulations to allow bottom trawling in Cashes Ledge, Jeffreys Ledge and the only protected portion of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary seems counterintuitive to ever devising a long-term strategy that could help restore groundfish populations in the Gulf of Maine. At a time of the lowest recorded groundfish populations in history, how does it make sense to increase bottom trawling in the best, remaining habitat areas?

This week the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) could make some decisions that decide the fate of important habitat areas in the Gulf of Maine. On Thursday, Dec. 20th, the NEFMC meets to consider fishing catch limits and proposals to allow trawling in currently protected habitat areas. The NEFMC is an important advisory body to the National Marine Fisheries Service, but it is really NMFS who is legally responsible for providing sustainable management of this public resource and it’s NMFS who has the responsibility to adequately protect ocean wildlife habitat. If there is a time to take action to help put this fishery on a path to eventual recovery, it is now.

Other New England fishermen, both commercial and recreational, understand the value of protected habitat and how healthy habitat benefits their own interests. In fact, the recreational fishing advisory panel of NEFMC voted in October to retain all current protections for habitat areas. Recreational fishermen and charter captains from Maine to Rhode Island well know that the cod their clients catch in the Gulf of Maine spawn from areas where large bottom trawlers are not allowed. In the words of one recreational fishing captain, “I’m not an advocate of opening any of the closed areas and dead set against the opening of the WGOM (Western Gulf of Maine) area. You’re destroying the livelihood of the recreational boats and you’re allowing the big boats to compete with the little boats.”

NOAA needs to hear this message loud and clear. Send a message to NOAA to urge the responsible protection of Cashes Ledge and other important habitat areas in the Gulf of Maine. Because, no matter where you celebrate your holidays, healthy ocean habitat is a gift that benefits us all.

Healthy Habitat Helps Create Healthy Fisheries

One of the fundamental concepts of marine ecology and modern fisheries management is that fish and other ocean wildlife need various types of habitat to feed, grow and reproduce.  Healthy ocean habitat is crucial to the wellbeing of ocean ecosystems and also provides spawning grounds for commercially important groundfish. New England’s ocean waters are home to several special places that deserve permanent protection.

Cashes Ledge, is one of those places. We’ve talked about Cashes Ledge many times on the New England Ocean Odyssey, and there’s a reason we keep bringing it up. An underwater mountain range 80 miles off the coast of Maine, Cashes Ledge supports the largest and deepest kelp forest off the Northeastern United States and is home to a vast diversity of ocean wildlife, from whales, Atlantic wolffish, and blue sharks, to fields of anemones and sponges. The ledge’s peak, known as Ammen Rock (shown above), comes to within 40 feet of the surface.

This place really is special – but don’t take our word for it, check out the video above and see what Brian Skerry has to say about Cashes Ledge – a place unlike any he’s ever seen.

Other places such as Jeffreys Ledge and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary provide rich habitat for highly depleted cod and haddock, sea turtles, and several species of endangered whales.

Most of these three areas in the Gulf of Maine currently benefit from fishing regulations which prohibit harmful bottom trawling, but these protections are temporary. Some of the largest commercial fishing trawlers in the region are pushing for changes in regulations to allow bottom trawling in Cashes Ledge, Jeffreys Ledge and the only protected portion of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

After the last cod crisis in the 1990s the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), after a court decree spurred by a CLF legal action, designated Cashes Ledge and an area known as the “Western Gulf of Maine” which holds Jeffreys Ledge and 22% of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, as “mortality closures.” The action restricted destructive trawling, but it allowed a wide array of other commercial fishing gear such as bottom gillnets, purse seines, hook and line and more the questionable practice of “mid-water trawls,” which despite their name, often catch groundfish. Recreational fishing and charter boats were not restricted. This single protective measure restricting commercial bottom trawling helped to restore seriously depleted populations in these areas. Moreover, protecting areas like Cashes Ledge created the “spillover effect” where larger populations of fish migrate out of the boundaries of the protected area. This is why commercial fishing vessels often “fish the borders” of protected areas.

After a new stock assessment released one year ago showed that populations of cod, haddock and other groundfish were at all time lows, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under pressure from some of the largest trawlers in the New England fleet started to hint that allowing bottom trawling in previously protected habitat areas – places like Cashes Ledge – might help to increase falling harvest amounts. At a time of the lowest recorded groundfish populations in history, how does it make sense to increase trawling in the best, remaining habitat areas?

This is why we must urge NOAA to keep our habitat protections in place.

Cashes Ledge is important not only to fish and ocean wildlife but also to scientists hoping to learn about the health and function of New England’s oceans. Many scientists believe that Cashes Ledge represents the best remaining example of an undisturbed Gulf of Maine ecosystem and have used Cashes Ledge as an underwater laboratory to which they have compared more degraded habitat in the Gulf of Maine.

The basic fact is that opening scarce protected habitat in the Gulf of Maine to bottom trawling at a time of historically low groundfish populations is among the worst ideas for recovering fish populations and the industry which depend upon them. But fisheries politics in New England remain. On Dec. 20th the NEFMC may take action through a backdoor exemption process to allow bottom trawling in a large portion of Cashes Ledge and other areas. NOAA needs to keep current protections in place. CLF is committed to securing permanent protection to ensure the long-term health of this important and vulnerable ecosystem. Click here to urge NOAA to protect New England ocean habitat and help ensure a healthy future for New England’s ocean.

Note: this piece also appears in “Scoop,” Conservation Law Foundation’s blog.