Baked Cod: The Path Forward in an Era of Climate Change

In recent weeks, we learned more sobering news for New England’s cod population. A paper published in Science detailed how rapidly increasing ocean temperatures are reducing cod’s productivity and impacting – negatively – the long-term rebuilding potential of New England’s iconic groundfish. The paper confirmed both the theoretical predictions associated with climate change and the recent scientific federal, state, and Canadian trawl surveys that reported a record-low number of cod caught in recent months.

To be clear, the Science authors do not conclude that ocean temperature changes associated with climate change have caused the collapse of cod. We have management-approved overfishing of cod to thank for that.

What rising ocean temperatures do seem to be doing, according to the Science paper, is dramatically changing the productivity of the remaining cod stocks. This makes it more difficult for cod to recover from overfishing today than at any other time in history, and perhaps reduces the ultimate recovery potential even if all fishing were halted. Stock assessments conducted without taking these productivity reductions into full account will dramatically overestimate cod populations and, in turn, fishing quotas.

The Science paper is potentially very important, with major implications for fishing limits on cod for decades to come, But stock assessment scientists have warned for years that their recent models were likely overestimating the amount of cod actually in the water – and the corresponding fishing pressure the stock could withstand. Unfortunately, those warnings have fallen on deaf ears at the New England Fishery Management Council.

In fact, the managers at the Council, dominated by fishermen and state fisheries directors with short-term economic agendas, could hardly have done more than they already have to jeopardize Atlantic cod’s future—climate change or not.

Overfishing, a Weakened Gene Pool, and the Loss of Productive Female Fish

As a result of chronic overfishing, New England’s cod population is likely facing what geneticists call a “population bottleneck,” meaning that the diversity of the remaining cod gene pool is now so greatly reduced that the fish that are left are less resilient to environmental stresses like increasing sea temperatures.

Overfishing has also caused the collapse of the age structure of the cod populations by removing almost all of the larger, more reproductive females (also known as the Big, Old, Fat, Fecund Females, or BOFFFS). Scientists have previously warned that losing these old spawners is a problem for cod productivity, but this new research suggests that the potential damage from their elimination may be significantly greater than imagined as a result of poor, climate change–related ecological conditions.

The Science paper hypothesizes that an underlying factor in the productivity decline of cod this past decade was the correlation between extremely warm spikes in ocean temperatures and the drop in zooplankton species that are critical to the survival of larval cod. With fewer zooplankton, fewer cod larvae make it to their first birthday.

The impacts of this zooplankton decline on cod productivity, however, could be exacerbated by the loss of the BOFFFs. Here’s why:

Cod start to spawn at three to four years old, but young females produce significantly fewer and weaker eggs and cod larvae than their older counterparts. Those elder female fish, on the other hand, produce larger, more viable eggs – sometimes exponentially more healthy eggs – over longer periods of time. If the older female cod population had still been plentiful, they might have produced larvae more capable of surviving variations in zooplankton abundance.

Perhaps the continued presence of larger, older, spawning females to the south of New England (where there is no commercial cod fishery) is one of the reasons that the cod fishery in the nearby warm waters off New Jersey is healthier now than it has been in recent history.

The Cod Aren’t Completely Cooked Yet: Four Potential Solutions

Cod have been in trouble since the 1990s, and now climate change is magnifying these troubles. This new reality, however, is not cause for us to throw in the towel. There are actions that our fishery managers can take now that will make a difference.

First, large cod habitat areas have to be closed to fishingpermanently. This is the only way to protect the large females and increase their number. Designating cod refuges such as the Cashes Ledge Closed Area as a marine national monument will remove the temptation for fishery councils – always under pressure to provide access to fish – to reopen them in the future.

Such monuments would also sustain a critical marine laboratory where more of these complex interactions between cod and our changing ocean environment can be studied and understood.

Second, managers need to gain a better understanding of the cod populations south of Cape Cod. While it is well and good to land “monster” female cod on recreational boat trips, those fish may be the key to re-populating Georges Bank. Caution, rather than a free-for-all, is the best course of action until the patterns of movement of those cod populations, as related to ocean temperature increases, are better understood.

Third, as observed in the Science paper, stock assessment models as well as guidance from the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee must start incorporating more ecosystem variables and reflecting a more appropriate level of scientific precaution in the face of the reality of climate change shifts. Enough talk about scientific uncertainty and ecosystem-based fisheries management; action is needed, and science should have the lead in guiding that action.

Finally, the importance of funding data collection and fishery science is evident from this important Science paper, which was supported by private, philanthropic dollars. NOAA should be undertaking this sort of work – but it is not in a position to even provide adequate and timely stock assessments, because limited funding forces the agency to use the existing outdated models.

NOAA’s funding limitations are constraining both collection of the essential field data needed to understand our changing world as well as the analysis of that data into meaningful and appropriate management advice. If Congress can find $33 million to give fishermen for the most recent “groundfish disaster,” it ought to be able to find money to prevent such avoidable disasters in the future.

Ultimately, the Science paper shines some much needed light on our climate change–related fishery issues in New England, but we can’t let it overshadow decades of mismanagement or justify a fatalistic attitude toward cod rebuilding. Steps can and must be taken, and fishery managers are still on the hook for the success or failure of our current and future cod stocks.

Setting the Record Straight: Marine Monuments Have a Long, Proud Legacy

A cunner swims through healthy kelp forest at Cashes LedgeFormer Conservation Law Foundation Staff Attorney Roger Fleming, who is now a part of the Oceans litigation team at EarthJustice, details how the National Monument establishment process through the Antiquities Act serves the public’s interest. 

By Roger Fleming

One hundred-nine years ago this week President Teddy Roosevelt created the first national monument, protecting the magnificent Devil’s Tower formation in Wyoming. Since then, sixteen presidents – eight from each party — have used the power granted by Congress in the Antiquities Act to create more than 115 monuments protecting the nation’s natural and historic heritage on land and at sea, from the Statue of Liberty to the Marianas Trench.

Now we have a chance to see that proud tradition in action again to protect a national treasure right here in our backyard with a Marine National Monument off New England’s coast. On September 15, 2015, NOAA hosted a town hall meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, in order to discuss the possible establishment of a monument that could include deep sea Coral Canyons and Seamounts and Cashes Ledge. Scientists have identified these areas as deserving of special protection due to unique undersea terrain and nutrient upwelling that supports cold water coral gardens, our largest cold water kelp forest, fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and more.

A broad coalition of scientists, small business owners, fishermen, faith groups, civic leaders, and conservationists have sent a clear message that we need to save these ecologically important places before irreparable damage is done, so that future generations can enjoy their unimaginable beauty and a healthier marine environment. That is exactly what the Antiquities Act is intended to do.

Unfortunately, opponents in the fishing industry have attempted to muddy the waters with unfounded concerns about the “process” being used to provide protection for these areas.

Opponents who spoke at NOAA’s town hall event argued that the monument designation process is undemocratic, and that decisions about how to manage these areas should be left to the New England Fishery Management Council, which oversees fishing in the region’s federal waters.

Many who gave comment also complained about a lack of opportunity for public comment on the monument designation. Let that sink in for a moment: complaints about a lack of public comment were made while giving public comment.

Let’s set the record straight on a few things.

First, the monuments process is democratic.

President Obama has the authority to establish permanent protection of these areas through designation of a monument under the Antiquities Act. This Act is another tool provided to the democratically-elected president by our democratically-elected Congress to preserve areas identified as historic landmarks and areas of scientific interest before it is too late – before the opportunity to save a valuable resource is lost. This president’s predecessor, George W. Bush, created four monuments in the Pacific Ocean covering a total of 860,000 square kilometers. None exist in the Atlantic Ocean.

Second, there has been—and continues to be—public input into the process.

Already in this nascent proposal for a new marine monument there has been a town hall meeting where anyone wishing to do so was given the opportunity to speak and an ongoing public comment period through which over 160,000 people have already written in support of saving these important places. Arguably, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to provide opportunities to be heard on a proposal, in circumstances where it is not at all required to by law.

Leading up to the monument proposal, there were years of study of these areas and numerous opportunities for the public and other stakeholders to provide relevant scientific, economic, and other information, and to otherwise make their views known as possible protections were discussed in different venues, including the fishery management process.  Because the President’s decision must be based on science, this will all be considered.

Third, the New England Fishery Management Council has a checkered history regarding public and scientific involvement, and an even worse record as a steward of the public’s ocean resources.

The fishery management process remains dominated by the fishing industry and fails to adequately consider broader public interests. One need only look to the status of New England’s iconic fish species, the Atlantic cod, for evidence of this. Cod stocks have collapsed and the region’s groundfishing sector was declared a disaster, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The record clearly shows that New England’s Council ignored repeated warnings from science about the deteriorating condition of cod stocks until it was far too late. Just last year more than a hundred-forty scientists and more than 150,000 members of public implored the council to protect more habitat for these and other depleted fish. But the Council instead voted to slash the amount of essential fish habitat protected by more than 60 percent.

The Council did succeed in identifying the ecological, economic, and social importance of the Cashes Ledge Closed area, and has closed the area to most bottom fishing. However, this action came only after an earlier vote to strip existing protections from that area. Further, the limited protections in place leave nearly all of the area open to other fishing, including the East Coast’s largest fishing vessels – industrial midwater trawlers – which are capable of stripping the area of essential forage fish, catching non-targeted fish, mammals and other marine animals as bycatch, and are known to contact the bottom when fishing. The protections in place are not permanent and could be removed at any time through the fishery management process.

Similarly, the New England canyons and seamounts have been identified by the Council as important ecological areas but they have received very few protections which are not worthy of their unique ecological importance.

Finally, this is not just about fishing.

New England’s “Fishery Management” Council has no authority to address other potential threats that could surface for the area, such as marine mining, drilling, or other industrial activity. Unlike the tenuous, partial protections now in place for Cashes Ledge and New England’s Canyons and Seamounts, a national monument provides permanent protection against all types of harmful extraction.

Such protection would benefit critically endangered right whales, which are known to depend on Cashes Ledge, fantastic deep-sea corals in the Canyons and Seamounts, and the important sea birds that feed on the surface of these rich waters.  Many coastal businesses, including many fishermen, support the proposal because they recognize there will also be broad economic benefits that will result from protecting these unique treasures and a healthier marine environment.

These areas belong to the U.S. public, and overwhelming evidence shows that the monument process is fair and that a marine monument would best serve the public’s interests now and into the future.

Fish Friday: A Rollercoaster of Demand for Atlantic Pollock

Atlantic PollockFriday, Friday, gotta read Fish (on) Friday. Last week, we featured a shark, and before that, a pretty little rosefish. But today, we have a real fish’s fish for you – a greenish, scaly, schooling creature with barbels and a classic fishy silhouette – the Atlantic pollock.

You are probably very familiar with this fish’s close relative, the cod, and you may even know about the Alaskan pollock – one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. But have you ever heard of the Atlantic pollock?

Pollachius virens range. Image via NOAA Fishwatch.PollockGOM

To be even more specific, we’re talking about Pollachius virens, the species of pollock living in the Northwestern Atlantic (not to be confused with Pollachius pollachius, the Eastern Atlantic species). These guys are most common on the western Scotian Shelf, on Georges Bank, and in the Gulf of Maine (see map). Juveniles feed on crustaceans and small fish, while adults feed primarily on other fish. They may grow up to 3.5 feet long and live up to 23 years.

Ignored, Overfished, and then Ignored Once Again

Before the 1980s, Atlantic pollock were primarily harvested as bycatch. However, demand grew steadily, peaking in 1986. By 1994, the stock crashed due to overfishing. Strict management regulations were quickly put in place, and the population rebounded. By 2010, the Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine pollock stocks were 115% above target population levels. Today, the species is managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.

Much like the Acadian redfish and Atlantic spiny dogfish, the recovery of this species was a mega management victory. But the ecological recovery of Atlantic pollock came at a price – while the stocks were rebuilding, the Atlantic pollock fishery was largely ignored. So much so that even today, it is an afterthought compared to the Gulf of Maine cod, haddock, and flounder fisheries.

In 2014, only 26% of the potential harvest was actually caught. Why are we heavily overfishing some fish populations, while ignoring healthy Atlantic pollock stocks? Because there isn’t demand for Atlantic pollock – at least, not yet. As with three of our previously featured underutilized species (silver hake, Acadian redfish, and Atlantic spiny dogfish), the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Out of the Blue campaign is working to create consumer support for sustainable seafood, as well as incentivize restaurants to use these underappreciated species. Check out their Seafood Dining Series to sample local, responsibly harvested seafood masterpieces, or try whipping up some Atlantic pollock for yourself with these cooking tips!

Bon Appétit!

While landings peak from November to January, Atlantic pollock are typically available year-round. They’re very low in saturated fat and are a great source of protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. You can find them as whole, as fillets, and as fresh, frozen, or smoked steaks – but make sure you’re buying Atlantic pollock, not Alaskan pollock, for a local meal! The Alaskan pollock fishery is well-managed and stocks are not overfished, but eating fish from the Pacific won’t help incentivize Gulf of Maine fishermen to harvest underutilized species. We need to build a demand for sustainable seafood from our own backyard!

The firm, white meat of Alantic pollock has a sweet, delicate flavor and is great for dishes such as Atlantic pollock in cartoccio with preserved blood orange (basically an easy, delicious, fancy fish cooked in a bag). Or if you’re a fish sandwich kind of person, you could try an island spiced pollock sandwich with sautéed spinach, tomato, avocado and cherry pepper aioli. Yum!

Hungry yet? What are you waiting for? Make room for Atlantic Pollock!

Special Species Round-Up: 6 Creatures found in Cashes Ledge

If you are familiar with New England Ocean Odyssey, you know we love Cashes Ledge, a majestic 25-mile undersea mountain range and biological hot spot in the Gulf of Maine.Kelp Forest at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

You know that this natural laboratory offers scientists the chance to explore a relatively pristine and unique ecosystem, to discover and observe rare and endangered species, and to hypothesize about what the greater Gulf of Maine looked like before the commercial fishing industry existed.

You know that Ammen Rock, the highest peak in the mountain chain, rises from a depth of 460 feet all the way up into the photic zone (exposure to sunlight), just 40 feet below the ocean’s surface. And you know that Ammen Rock disrupts the dominant Gulf of Maine current, swirling nutrient- and oxygen-rich waters from the seafloor to the top of the water column, providing ideal conditions for a huge array of marine life including sponges, corals, anemones, predatory fish, sharks, whales, and more.

But what specific special species reside at Cashes Ledge, and what migratory visitors stop by throughout the year? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out!

1. (Unclassified) Blue Sponge

This species is so incredibly rare, it hasn’t even been sighted anywhere apart from the rocky walls of Cashes Ledge, let alone taxonomically classified. Needless to say, we have a lot to learn about this species. Cashes is also home to a variety of bright red, orange, and yellow sponges, including mounding sponges as big as footballs! Cod and Invertebrates

Cod swim under a wall of sponges and other invertebrates. Image via NOAA/ONMS

Sponges are primitive creatures that latch on to hard surfaces anywhere from the intertidal zone to the deep ocean floor. They filter feed by absorbing tiny organisms through incurrent (think “inbound”) pores and excreting waste through excurrent (“outbound”) pores. Many sponges can reproduce either sexually or asexually.

 

2. Red Cod

You’ve read about, seen, and probably eaten Atlantic cod…but have you ever heard of red Atlantic cod? While genetic testing has yet to determine if this variation is a distinct species, Graham Sherwood, Research Scientist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine, hypothesizes that it is not. All cod eat high levels of carotenoids (natural pigments found in organisms such as crabs and worms), so it’s no surprise that some cod are red in color. But why are some red while most are olive-colored?

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

Kelp Forest and Red Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

An olive cod (top) and a red cod (bottom) swim through kelp forests at Cashes Ledge. Images via Brian Skerry for New England Ocean Odyssey.
Sherwood’s theory is that the red coloring is an adaptive advantage. Red cod typically permanently reside in shallower kelp forests, while olive-colored cod roam around deeper waters in the North Atlantic. The red coloring may be a U/V protectant or a form of camouflage for shallower waters. We’ll have to stay tuned to find out if red cod are a separate species, or if they are just a colorful variation of olive-colored Atlantic cod.

Check out more Brian Skerry photos of red and olive-colored cod at Cashes Ledge.

 

3. Christmas Anemone

Urticina crassicornis, the Christmas anemone, resides on rock faces at depths up to about 100 feet and may grow to be a foot tall and 8 inches in diameter. It feeds on crabs, urchins, mussels, gastropods, chitons, barnacles, and fish by stinging and stunning prey with venomous cells found in the anemone’s tentacles.

The candy-striped shrimp, Lebbeus grandimanus, is immune to the Christmas anemone’s sting; the two organisms live in a commensal relationship whereby the anemone provides shelter for the shrimp, and the shrimp does not affect the anemone.

Red Anemone A Northern red anemone on a rock wall at Cashes Ledge. CLF/Brett Seymour.

 

 

 

 

4. Porbeagle

Cod and InvertebratesPorbeagle, Lamna nasus. Credit NMFS/E. Hoffmayer, S. Iglésias and R. McAuley.

No, that’s not a white shark – it’s the great white’s lesser known relative, the porbeagle, Lamna nasus. The porbeagle can be easily distinguished from a white shark by its second dorsal fin (that tiny second bump on the shark’s back before its tail). These big guys can grow up to 11 ½ feet long and are highly migratory throughout the Northwest Atlantic. They tend to stay out of shallow waters along the coast, preferring pelagic waters from the surface to depths of 1000 feet. In the Gulf of Maine, they feed on mackerel, herring, other small fish and sharks, and squids.

NOAA listed the porbeagle as a “Species of Concern” for the Northwest Atlantic stock in 2006, the same year that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed the subpopulation as endangered. Since the 1960s, overfishing has been a major threat to porbeagles, which are slow-growing with low productivity rates, making it difficult for populations to recover. In the U.S., the species is managed by the Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is currently reviewing two 2010 proposals to list the porbeagle on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act.

 

5. North Atlantic Right Whale

The waters off the coast of New England get some magnificent, gigantic visitors. Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, Eubalaena glacialis, hang out around New England and the Bay of Fundy in the summer and fall to feed on zooplankton and raise their young. They move about the Gulf of Maine in a regular pattern, often stopping at Cashes Ledge, where regular circulation of the water column produces plankton-rich waters. In the winter months, the whales typically migrate to birthing grounds in the coastal waters off the southeastern United States.

The North Atlantic Right Whale was subject to intensive whaling from the 1500s through 1935; populations off the east coast of North America are still struggling to recover, due in large part to boat collisions and entanglement in fishing gear.

North Atlantic Right Whale with Provincetown lighthouse (Long Point) in the backgroundA North Atlantic Right Whale in Cape Cod Bay in front of Provincetown, MA. Image via Brian Skerry for New England Ocean Odyssey.

 

 

6. Bubble Gum Coral

Deep-water coral colonies thrive in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Cashes Ledge. Paragorgia arborea, nicknamed bubble gum coral for its pink color, is a fan-shaped coral (aka “sea fan”…creative, right?) that typically inhabits exposed locations at depths of 600 to 4,300 feet. It can grow up to six meters tall, making it a real treasure for divers to spot. At Cashes Ledge, Paragorgia inhabits the hard-bottom basalt substrate.

Deep sea corals grow slowly and may live to be thousands of years old, making them extremely susceptible to lasting damage from bottom trawlers. One sweep of a trawl net can destroy centuries of growth – a problem not only for the corals, but also for the marine species that use the corals as a nursery and refuge habitat.

Paragorgia

Paragorgia colonies in the New England Seamount chain. Image via NOAA Ocean Explorer.

These are just six of the marvelous, charismatic species that depend on the nutrient-rich waters of Cashes Ledge. If we are to protect them, we must start by protecting Cashes Ledge.

As 2015 Fishing Season Kicks Off, a Still Uncertain Future for Cod Remains

The 2015 fishing season begins today, May 1, and stricter – but necessary – quotas on Gulf of Maine cod will take effect.

Last year, scientists determined that the population of spawning cod had plummeted to historic lows (3 to 4 percent of the target level). In response, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to reduce the 2015 total allowable catch (TAC) of Gulf of Maine cod from 1,550 to 386 metric tons – a 75% reduction from the 2014 fishing year TAC. Possession of recreational-caught Gulf of Maine cod will also be entirely prohibited. These new measures, as well as changes to Gulf of Maine closed areas and catch limits for winter founder and haddock are implemented through Framework 53 Adjustment to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.

NOAA approved Framework 53 last week with the expectation that catch limits may be adjusted after the Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment scheduled for September 2015. For now, the new Gulf of Maine cod catch limits replace the emergency regulations imposed by NOAA last fall.

Many Gulf of Maine commercial fishermen who harvest groundfish are concerned about the new limits knowing that they will face a difficult fishing year. As AP reporter Patrick Whittle describes, cod are a “choke species.” Catching other groundfish such has haddock or pollock without catching cod poses a near-impossible challenge for fishermen, and the limits on cod will likely affect these other fisheries and their respective markets.

The new measures, though strict, are more than needed for the future of New England’s iconic species. In fact, they continue to represent a high risk management approach. Scientists indicated that the total allowable catch for Gulf of Maine cod should be limited to 200 metric tons – almost 50% below the new quota limits. They also warned that even such low limits may still be insufficient to allow coastal cod populations to recover. Cod is in crisis, driven by historic overfishing and compounded by new ecological changes associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

Low cod catches are necessary, but they are not enough. In addition to tight catch regulations, protecting the cod’s essential marine habitat, such as the Cashes Ledge Closed Area and the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area, will be vital to the cod’s recovery, as well as the health of other species. To thrive, fish need areas where they can spawn, feed, grow, and find shelter without the threat and disturbance of fishing and fishing gear impacts.

Cod fishing was America’s first colonial industry. Will it also follow the path of the Atlantic halibut fishery into commercial oblivion? Now, 400 years later, there is little doubt that unless cod catches are reduced to as close to zero as possible, a cod fishery will move out of the region’s reach for decades, if not more.

Cod’s future in New England, after decades of overfishing and risky management, is sadly now anyone’s guess.

Fishery Management Council Spares Cashes Ledge But Puts Other Ocean Habitat At Risk

Cashes ledge, a spectacular underwater mountain range in the Gulf of Maine, has for now been spared by the New England Fishery Management Council, which met this week to vote on whether to open this biodiversity hotspot to the most destructive forms of commercial fishing. But, while the Cashes Ledge Closed Area survived the Council vote intact, that fate is not shared by other important ecological areas found within the Gulf of Maine.

In addition to maintaining current protections for Cashes Ledge, the Council voted to add a new area of ocean habitat in the Eastern Gulf of Maine. That’s the good news. The bad news, however, adds up to laundry list of poor decision making that puts the health of our ocean, fisheries, and fishing economy at risk, as the Council also voted to:

  • allow damaging trawls to invade an area of the Western Gulf of Maine that has been closed to commercial fishing for more than 20 years,
  • significantly reduce the size and scope of a new protected area in the Downeast Maine area,
  • permit surf clam dredges, the most damaging fishing gear, in a newly created Great South Channel “protected area,”
  • allow gear modification techniques to serve as habitat “protection” measures, even though those techniques have been panned by the Council’s own technical experts.

The Council also entertained a new proposal put forward by the scallop industry for a protected area for Georges Bank that will – unsurprisingly – permit scallop and clam dredging in a protected area that has been closed for more than 20 years.

CLF has been at the forefront of fighting to keep Cashes Ledge and other protected ocean habitat closed to most commercial fishing practices in order to restore depleted groundfish stocks, including the Atlantic cod population, which is currently at historic lows. During a 60-day comment period, CLF and other environmental organizations collected close to 160,000 comments from the public calling on the Council to keep Cashes Ledge closed to commercial fishing and to increase protected areas across New England waters.

While the initial outcome for Cashes is positive, the Council continues to play a dangerous shell game with our precious ocean resources, ignoring its own scientists’ advice and elevating minimal short-term gains for industry over long-term benefits for the resource (and, ultimately, the fishing community). The current vote is yet another example of one step forward and two steps back for the Council, as it once again spurned the kind of long-term protection and sustainability for New England’s precious marine resources that could lead to economic prosperity for our fishing community.

Fishery management councils across the United States have successfully balanced the protection of ocean habitat with the economic interests of our fishing communities. New England’s fishery council should be the nation’s leader in that effort, but instead they have a long history of making bad management decisions that are depleting our fish stocks and bankrupting our fishing industry.

Our oceans belong to the people and we cannot allow an industry-driven Council to take hostage of vital marine resources decisions. Of the nearly 160,000 people who weighed in on this issue, an overwhelming 96% of them want an increase in protected areas, not a decrease.

If you were among those thousands who weighed in, thank you. Your voice has and can make a difference in this fight. The reality is, even though Cashes has received a reprieve for now, the final vote on the Council’s risky proposal isn’t until June. CLF will continue to ensure that your voice is heard and work to turn back the tide on a legacy of poor management by the New England Fishery Management Council.

“Good Fishing” on Cashes Ledge

Maps offer us a unique window into history. We can see how landscapes and coastlines have changed and which locations had particularly noteworthy attributes. The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center has a collection of 200,000 maps and atlases from around the world, but on display in the lobby of the Boston Harbor Hotel (on loan from the Boston Public Library) is one map that caught our eye.

The map is a detailed chart of the New England coast authored by Captain Nathaniel Holland in 1794, and in the center of the Gulf of Maine you can find Cashes Ledge. Not only did Holland include Cashes Ledge on the map, but he added a small, but largely telling annotation: “Good Fishing.”

Nathaniel Holland’s map is historical evidence that Cashes Ledge has been an important fish habitat since at least the 18th century, and given the time during which the map was created, the “good fishing” is more than likely referring to Atlantic cod.

As the tides have changed in New England fisheries, how can we not protect a place that has served as a fish refuge for hundreds of years? Gulf of Maine marine species, cod in particular, deserve to have their long-term home permanently protected.

Nathaniel Holland's 1794 map, "A New and Correct Chart of the Coast of New England and New York with the Adjacent Parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick..."
Nathaniel Holland’s 1794 map, “A New and Correct Chart of the Coast of New England and New York with the Adjacent Parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick…”

 

Images via Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

Take Action Now to Protect Ocean Habitat

One of the principle goals of New England Ocean Odyssey has been to reveal the magnificence of New England’s ocean and to transform the way people think about and view this truly amazing environment. One of the most extraordinary places that we have featured as part of this effort is the highly productive, diverse, and dramatically beautiful Cashes Ledge. Tragically, despite these valuable and irreplaceable characteristics, Cashes Ledge is in danger of being opened to trawls, dredges, and other destructive fishing practices pursuant of a fisheries management proposal that would eliminate its currents protections—and ultimately do more harm than good to Cashes and other fragile ocean habitat in our region.

For more than ten years Cashes Ledge has been protected against the most damaging forms of fishing, such as bottom trawling and dredging. But the New England Fishery Management Council is now considering a proposal that would remove these protections. The proposal, known as the Omnibus Habitat Amendment (OHA), includes a range of alternatives for managing ocean habitat. One alternative would eliminate all the current protected areas that now provide fish a safe haven from damaging fish trawls and other harmful gear. Another alternative would reduce the amount of protected ocean in New England by as much as 70%. Among the many harmful alternatives being considered is one, preferred by the Council, that would expose more than 70% of the currently protected Cashes Ledge area to damaging bottom fishing. The Council has made a preliminary decision to move forward with this alternative that would eliminate protection for areas where the imperiled Atlantic cod obtains refuge to feed, spawn, and avoid predators–in spite of recommendations from its own technical staff and scientists to leave Cashes fully intact!

This is not only contrary to the OHA’s habitat protection objective, but an overall bad sign for an ocean ecosystem already unable to sustain healthy populations of important species like Atlantic cod and flounder.

Now is your chance to tell the Council and NOAA that you won’t stand for this kind of mismanagement. You can submit written comments to these agencies here, as well as make a statement in person at public hearings that are currently taking place all over New England and in a few of the mid-Atlantic states. Your simple presence at these meetings would demonstrate to the Council the widespread support for keeping Cashes Ledge permanently closed to harmful fishing practices. As New England ocean-lovers, it is our responsibility to reveal to others the true beauty of our home waters, and show that New England’s ocean is a spectacular ecosystem that deserves to be protected.

Thank you for your continued support, and we hope to see you out there!