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

Nov 12, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Photo credit: Dieter Craasman.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Photo credit: Dieter Craasman.

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.

The Death of Atlantic Cod: The Convenience of Denial

Oct 29, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of MaineAtlantic cod’s future in New England is overshadowed with existential dread. With so many opinions flying around about what the “science” says or what the fishermen “see,” trying to make sense of what is going on with Atlantic cod with any precision seems a fool’s errand. However, we must not fall victim to the convenience of denial. If anything, recent cod stock assessment shadows have only darkened.

In August, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, a NOAA entity charged with conducting ecosystem-based research and assessments of fish stocks and other marine resources to promote their recovery and long-term sustainability, completed a series of “operational assessments” for 20 groundfish stocks. The purpose of these quick assessments was to shed light on changes in stock status in the time between major stock assessment reviews, which typically happen every 1 to 3 years.

The news was not good for a number of stocks. The assessments show that, of the 20 stocks the Science Center reviewed, at least 8 groundfish populations are either in worse condition or are still not showing any recovery, despite mandated catch reductions (such as those implemented for Gulf of Maine cod). Furthermore, there are now seven assessment models that they say have “diagnostic problems,” adding a level of uncertainty about the data.

The Science Center determined Georges Bank cod populations were at an unfathomable 1% of where they should be and that 2014 fishing pressure was estimated to be 994% higher than the overfishing limit. In other words, to ensure the population of cod in a given area is sustainable, the estimated numbers of cod should be 100 times higher than what the models estimate is actually in the water – a deplorable condition made all the more troubling given the intense fishing pressure estimated on this species.

After a quick peer review, however, the New England Fishery Management Council’s Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) threw out the Science Center’s assessment model, deeming the Georges Bank cod models now so unreliable that they were unusable for management advice.

Rejecting the Georges Bank cod models conveniently means the Council can move another stock off the formal “overfishing” list and into the “unknown” category, but that doesn’t mean that the stock is in any less trouble. “Unknown” in this context means that the stock has gone off its scientific rails – which is not a comforting situation when that fish is Atlantic cod, the region’s most iconic fish species, and cod populations are estimated to be lower than at any point in history!

No good news

Models or not, certain fundamental signals of the severity of the current cod problem remain. All of the U.S. and Canadian Georges Bank cod surveys continue to show the lowest levels in decades. The number of juvenile cod has been below average since 1990.

Additionally, the fish from the recent trawl survey were smaller at various ages than in previous surveys, and the older, more productive cod seem to be virtually gone. And 2014 was the first year the Canadian survey didn’t catch any fish older than 8 years old and above 36” in length. Not very hopeful circumstances for a species that should be living longer than 20 years and growing to twice that size. The assessment scientists, once again, could not point to a single positive biological indicator for the species.

Why are cod so unproductive? It seems everyone has an opinion, so here’s mine: As the scientists tell us, these cod populations have been pummeled by rampant overfishing for 37 years in a row. Add to that the stresses of rapidly changing sea water temperatures, plankton crashes, increased predation on larvae and juvenile cod, and unreported discards… and you have a species on the ropes.

In this context, the Fishing Management Council Science and Statistical Committee’s recent catch advice to the managers for the upcoming fishing years with respect to Georges Bank cod seems only barely scientific. The Science and Statistical Committee recommended that 2016-2018 catch limits should be based on an average of the most recent three-year catches, reduced by the catch declines seen in the recent NOAA trawl surveys—a decrease of 24%. At the risk of exposing my mathematical limitations, isn’t that just about the same as scientifically blessing continued declines rather than making any recommendations that would reverse them?

The overfishing limits (OFL) they have recommended for both are reduced by identical “scientific uncertainty” adjustments– 25% –to produce their recommended acceptable biological catch (ABC).

Directionally, the Science and Statistical Committee’s advice for cod has some merit: catches should certainly be cut. But at a time when, one, there is such scientific uncertainty that the committee has to throw out the assessment model and, two, there is not one positive biological sign of any basis for hope of recovery, I have to ask: Are there any circumstances under which the science advisors will tell the managers that we must stop catching cod?

Apparently, not yet.

This Week on – October 19-23

Oct 23, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

October 20 – Fish Talk in the News – Tuesday, October 20 – In this edition of Fish Talk in the News, WSJ covers the Maine lobster boom; Eileen Sobeck has a message about at-sea monitors and observers; the market divide between Maine crab and lobster is growing; 18 local fishermen receive safety training; and local NPR station WCAI features Cashes Ledge and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts. In the News, by Talking Fish.

October 21 – Fish Styx: The convenience of denying the death of Atlantic cod – Atlantic cod’s future in New England is overshadowed with existential dread. With so many opinions flying around about what the “science” says or what the fishermen “see,” trying to make sense of what is going on with Atlantic cod with any precision seems a fool’s errand. However, we must not fall victim to the convenience of denial. If anything, recent cod stock assessments shadows have only darkened. New England Fisheries, by Peter Shelley.

October 22 – Experts say: In the case for marine protection, the science begs for accelerated decision-making – The Earth is over 70% ocean, but our efforts to preserve our blue planet lag far behind terrestrial protections. Former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and fellow Oregon State University researcher Kirsten Grorud-Colvert published a paper in Science last week acknowledging recent global progress in ocean conservation but emphasizing the need to do much more. Protecting Ocean Ecosystems, by Talking Fish.

October 23 – Fishing in Hot Water – Taking a broader approach to fisheries management allows for increased ecosystem resilience through adaptive management, which in turn can prepare our fisheries and fishermen for the impacts of climate change. Scientific studies continue to provide evidence of warming ocean waters being the product of climate change and excessive carbon pollution. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, so being prepared MUST be a priority for Maine’s fishermen who rely on species that are dependent on cool waters. Protecting Ocean Ecosystems, guest post by Lucy Van Hook (Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association).

October 23 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, October 23 – In this edition of Fish Talk in the News, 2015 will likely be the hottest year on record; Maine suspends its sea urchin swipe card system; Maine closes sea urchin fishing off Southport; Maine reduces scallop fishing to 60 days for southern part of the state; GMRI receives $6.5 million grant to expand climate change education program; Cape Cod selectman calls for creation of Cape Cod Shark Watch; U.S. Senate passes IUU fishing bill; NOAA Fisheries launches mobile-friendly; and nations fully protect over 1 million square miles of ocean in 2015. In the News, by Talking Fish.

LePage Stands on the Wrong Side of History with Monument Opposition

Sep 9, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Obama Administration is currently considering a proposal to permanently protect key areas of New England’s ocean as the first Marine National Monuments in the Atlantic, including three deep sea canyons and four sea mountains at the southern edge of Georges Bank. CLF is continuing to urge the administration to include the area between Cashes Ledge and Fippinies Ledge (a roughly 500-square-mile area 80 miles off the coast of Maine) in its monument designation.

As my colleague Peter Shelley explains here, Cashes Ledge and the coral canyons and seamounts are unique ecosystems that are critical “living laboratories” for understanding the impacts of climate change on our ocean resources – from warming waters to the increasing acidification of our ocean waters. Permanently protecting the Cashes Ledge Closed Area may also provide one of the last best chances for recovery of overfished species such as Atlantic cod, because the area would become a refuge for highly productive large, older female cod.

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine. Photo by Brian Skerry

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge, 80 miles off the coast of Maine. Photo by Brian Skerry

This is a tremendous opportunity to take meaningful action today that will ensure our children and grandchildren will have at least some vestige of our historical New England ocean to work in and experience. Here at CLF, we’re working hard with our partners to explain the nature and scope of what permanent protection would mean through meetings with federal, state, and local leaders, with commercial fishermen and marine businesses, with recreational fishermen, and with our friends and allies in the nonprofit world.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Just last week, at a public event held at the New England Aquarium in Boston, more than 600 people turned out in support of permanent protection of these special places. We’ve been hearing that same kind of support throughout Maine, from Bar Harbor to Kittery.

Disappointing but not surprising has been the response from Maine’s illustrious Governor LePage. While Maine’s Congressional delegation continues to thoughtfully evaluate the proposals for permanent protection, fightin’ Paul LePage came out swinging early – before even knowing the details of the marine monument proposal. Not only does he oppose the idea of permanently protecting the Cashes Ledge area, he opposes the whole idea of National Monuments period. Not surprisingly, this puts the Governor at odds with every President since Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote the Antiquities Act and then invoked the power granted to the President under the Act to permanently protect the Grand Canyon from mining in 1908. Indeed, a century later, the first large Marine National Monuments were established in the Pacific Ocean by George W. Bush.

The Governor’s opposition is not surprising given how fast and loose he has played with the Land for Maine’s Future bond money. The good new is that, by now, many people realize that the sound and fury from Augusta doesn’t signify much. In a recent poll conducted by Maine Biz, when people were asked if they supported the Governor’s opposition to the marine monument idea for Cashes Ledge, more than 2 to 1 they said they did not.

As CLF has been conducting our outreach, we’re finding that the more people understand the fact of this marine monument proposal – including the value of Cashes Ledge as marine habitat for critical species such as cod, halibut, and endangered North Atlantic right whales; its significance as home to the largest coldwater kelp forest on the Eastern seaboard; the lack of any significant commercial activity there for more than a decade; and the potential Cashes Ledge holds in helping us to understand and adapt to the impacts climate change will have on our marine resources – the more they support it.

We hope you will join this rising chorus and help make history by signing our petition in support of the Atlantic’s first marine national monuments. We only have 7 days to make our voices heard before the official public commenting period for this proposal closes. Please don’t wait. Sign our petition today.

Thank you for being a part of history in the making.

Georges Bank on the Habitat Chopping Block

Jun 4, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The New England Fishery Management Council’s (NEFMC) Habitat Committee continues to show complete disregard for habitat protection. Up for consideration at the Committee’s Monday meeting was an industry-introduced proposal to open critical areas of Georges Bank as part of the Omnibus Habitat Amendment. The proposal was originally designed to allow access to the Northern edge of Georges Bank for scalloping.

A sea scallop and tunicate colonies encrusting pebble gravel habitat on Northern Georges Bank. Photo by USGS.

A sea scallop and tunicate colonies encrusting pebble gravel habitat on Northern Georges Bank. Photo by USGS.

The discussion that played out reinforced the notion that the management body tasked with protecting essential fish habitat in New England is driven instead by short-term industry interests and willing to sacrifice important ecological areas in order to accommodate fishing interests.

The Habitat Committee ultimately voted to the full Council as its preferred alternative for the Georges Bank area a revised and further weakened version of the industry’s proposal, which establishes two habitat closures along the southern edge (a western and eastern area) closed to mobile-bottom tending gear and a “mortality closure” over the scallop and vulnerable habitat rich northern edge. A mortality closure can be opened at the discretion of the Council and NMFS when the population of fish that it was intended to protect no longer need such catch protections

When a commenter pointed out to the Committee that the “mortality closure” comprised 80% gravel and cobble bottom habitat – some of the most vulnerable, high quality essential fish habitat according to NEFMC’s own data – the Committee moved quickly to conjure up a new name for the area. Sadly, no wordsmithing could disguise the meaning of intent of the Committee to ensure that damaging scallop dredges would gain access to this most vulnerable of habitats. In a move that again directly contradicted the Council’s own science, the Committee leapt to relocate the western habitat protected area from a region comprised mostly of cobble and gravel bottom to one dominated by sand. The Council has repeatedly taken the position in this years-long process that their science indicates that sandy bottom on Georges Bank has among the lowest values as essential fish habitat.

With this as preferred alternative going into the June full Council meeting, Georges Bank faces a drastic reduction in overall protected habitat area, rolling back decades of habitat recovery in some of the areas now proposed to be wide open to all fishing gears. Disregarding its own science accumulated over the innumerable years this amendment has been underway, the Council seems positioned to cash in its habitat protected areas in favor of short term economic gain, while risking long term viability of New England’s fishing future.

The Council meets in the third week of June to finalize its votes on the Omnibus Habitat Amendment. After the June vote, the Council will submit its proposed amendment to NOAA for final approval or disapproval. At this point, the public will have the opportunity to weigh in with the agency about how the Omnibus Habitat Amendment moves ocean habitat protections backwards and endangers the future of our fisheries and the communities that depend on them.

It’s Possible

Apr 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A walk along Boston Harbor today reveals a waterfront that’s both beautiful and vibrant. Water taxis and sailboats skim its waters; tourists and locals stroll along its shores; fishermen catch striped bass right off the docks; and waterside restaurants brighten the evening.

It’s hard to believe that, barely a generation ago, this same harbor was in crisis, a dirty and rancid stew of raw sewage and toxic pollution. Back then, it was deemed the problem too big, too dirty, too impossible to solve. No one wanted to step up and do anything about it. But, rather than back down from this challenge, we at CLF declared we were going to take back Boston Harbor from the polluters.

And we did.

Cleaning up Boston Harbor is just one of the seemingly impossible challenges CLF has taken on – and won.

Thanks to the support of people like you, the remarkable transformation of Boston Harbor is just one of the seemingly impossible challenges CLF has taken on – and won – in our nearly 50-year history.

It was really kind of outrageous at the time that our small band of lawyers and policy advocates took on both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Environmental Protection Agency – and won. No one then could have predicted that this was going to be a $4.5 billion, generational effort to rebuild metropolitan Boston’s entire water, sewer, and stormwater systems – or that our efforts to ensure clean water drains into Boston Harbor would still be ongoing today.

You can’t deny the results. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process. And Boston Harbor now has its own watchdog – Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a group CLF helped form to carry our vigilance forward.

While CLF was just the point of the spear that made all of this happen, it was a very sharp point directed very strategically.

Boston Harbor, iconic though it is, was not the first time CLF had taken on a seemingly impossible challenge. And it certainly wasn’t the last. Oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank? Stopped. A four-lane highway through Franconia Notch? Blocked. A destructive dam on the Penobscot River? Defeated. Big coal in Massachusetts? Shutting down. The largest landfill in Rhode Island flouting the Clean Air Act? Called to account. Pollution choking Lake Champlain? Getting cleaned up for the benefit of all.

And that’s the short list.

Now, today, in 2015, we are facing the defining challenge of our age – climate change. It’s bigger and more complex than anything we’ve tackled before, and it’s going to touch everything we all hold dear about New England: our communities, our environment, and our livelihoods.

But it’s not an impossible challenge, despite inaction and denial at so many levels of our government. Yes, we need international and national leadership on climate change, but let’s be clear: The real solutions are going to be forged at the state and regional levels and that’s where CLF shines. This is CLF’s moment.

Dealing with climate change is going to take every tool in our toolbox, every ounce of expertise we have, every innovative idea we can generate, and every ally we can muster. It won’t be easy, and I would be misleading you if I didn’t note that it’s already too late to head off some of the climate impacts New England will experience.

But, frankly, it’s when we’re told that a challenge can’t be overcome that we are at our most bold, our most creative, and our most tenacious. I know – because in my 30 years with CLF, I’ve seen us surmount the impossible time and time again.

What really keeps us moving forward, tackling New England’s biggest environmental challenges, is our commitment to all of you – and to people and communities large and small across New England. For nearly 50 years, people like you have been our critical partners in what’s possible. You have helped CLF close polluting power plants, clean up New England’s air and water, bolster the health of our oceans, and boost the vitality of our communities.

You are helping New England thrive – for people today and for future generations tomorrow. We’re honored to have you by our side and thank you for your commitment to making a difference.

This April, we’re seeking to raise $25,000 toward our efforts to solve New England’s seemingly impossible environmental challenges – ensuring clean air and clean water, healthy oceans and healthy communities for all. Please give, now, as generously as you can, to help us reach this goal.







CLF Calls to Shut Down New England Cod Fishery

Jan 31, 2013 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Yesterday the story of New England’s cod fishery took another tragic turn when the New England Fishery Management Council voted to drastically cut catch limits for New England’s two cod stocks—Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod—by 77 and 61 percent, respectively.

The Council’s action follows months of scientific debate on appropriate catch limits for cod. Recent assessments showed stocks at the lowest levels ever recorded and declining rapidly:

  • Georges Bank cod biomass is at just 7% of healthy, sustainable levels.
  • Gulf of Maine cod biomass is at 13-18% of healthy, sustainable levels.
  • The last better-than-average year for young Georges Bank cod production was 1991.
  • The amount of younger fish becoming available for fishing, known as recruitment, has been at the lowest estimated levels ever for the last five years running.

Confirming this dismal outlook, fishermen have been unable to find enough cod to even come close to filling their small quotas. The fish just aren’t there any more.

Despite this grim outlook, some in the industry asked for interim measures that would allow devastating overfishing to continue for yet another year, and the Massachusetts fisheries agency representative on the Council inexplicably asked for catch levels that were higher than the highest recommendations from scientists. NOAA regional administrator John Bullard rejected these efforts as legally and biologically unjustifiable.

Bullard told the Council yesterday that the “day of reckoning” for the fishery had arrived and that further management denial about the true state of the stocks could not be sanctioned. In this context, the Council chose to cut the catch – even in the face of industry opposition.

But the action to cut cod quota did not go far enough. The options implemented by the Council are the least aggressive cuts allowable by law, and under some assessments they still authorize overfishing. They push the limits of scientific advice and put the short-term economic interests over the long-term health of New England’s cod fishery and the viability of a whole generation of groundfishermen. Years of similarly short-sighted decision-making have caused the current biological disaster.

The Council unanimously rejected a motion to shut down the cod fishery entirely—an option that the NMFS Regional Director labeled as irresponsible, but one that may be the only chance for the recovery of New England’s cod stocks.

Canada took similar action to shut down its cod fishery in 1992, when its stocks were in a state remarkably similar to New England’s current disaster. Even their action in retrospect was too little and too late to avert a social and economic calamity; tens of thousands of people were put out of work, and cod stocks have still not fully recovered.

Unlike Canada, however, New England fishing communities are unlikely to see massive disaster relief funds. The New England Fishery Management Council now owns this problem and will bear full responsibility for the long term biological and socio-economic  consequences of their decision. While CLF hopes that the Council’s gamble is not reckless, decades of bad Council bets in the past and the current scientific advice do not bode well. Time will tell.

Now is not the time for denial. It is not the time for timid decisions and taking unconscionable risks. It is time to make the painful, necessary steps towards a better future for fishing in New England. Rather than arguing over the scraps left after decades of mismanagement, we should shut the cod fishery down and protect whatever cod are left.


Providing Ocean Beauty, Health, and Wealth Demands NOAA Leadership

Oct 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Cod at Cashes Ledge. Copyright Brian Skerry.
Cod swim through the kelp forest on Cashes Ledge


The beauty, health, and wealth provided by the productivity of New England’s ocean is illustrated in the diversity of ocean and coastal habitat found in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, southern New England waters, and the far edge of the Outer Continental Shelf. New England’s ocean habitats provide a huge economic service, but only if the underlying ecological foundation is healthy and sustained. Pushing our ocean waters to produce more fish and seafood than is sustainable can lead to a severe decline in goods and services – as we are seeing with the most recent groundfish depletion crisis – or even to an unrecoverable collapse as has happened in eastern Canada.

There are really two major components to a healthy ocean: don’t take out too much in the way of fish and other living resources and don’t put in too much in the way of runoff, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants. In New England’s celebrated cod and groundfish fishery we have clearly been taking out too much through decades of overfishing. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at the request of the New England Fishery Management Council, has for years taken the riskiest possible approach to managing fish stocks. NOAA and the Fishery Management Council have set catch limits at the highest levels allowed by law and then shown great surprise when fish stocks fail to recover.

We need NOAA to show proactive leadership by ensuring a more precautionary approach to setting annual catch limits and to rebuilding fish populations. Decades of unsustainable catch levels should not continue to plague New England’s fisheries or our ocean’s health.

The other problem of overfishing is that the methods used to catch fish have gotten more destructive. Since the development of more powerful engines and sonar during World War II, fishing vessels can go farther out to sea, fish in deeper water, and drag heavier bottom trawls. These inventions not only catch a lot more fish, but also cause more damage to ocean bottom habitat – the kelp beds, boulders and rocky fields, tube worms, anemones, sponges, corals, and mussel beds which serve as nurseries and spawning areas. Over decades we are left with cumulative impacts to large areas of New England’s ocean habitat.

This makes the remaining special areas such as Cashes Ledge even more important as a place where small fish can grow and become large enough to reproduce.

In New England, NOAA is headed in reverse on its legal responsibility and the ecological necessity to further protect juvenile groundfish in their nursery grounds. The commercial fishing industry, led by big trawlers, has argued for opening these nursery grounds. Areas of sea bottom that provide essential fish habitat must be protected from destructive fishing practices like trawling and dredging.  For nearly a decade regional fishery managers have failed to take serious action to protect essential fish habitat.  It’s time to make habitat conservation a priority.

The Conservation Law Foundation, our conservation partners, marine scientists, fishermen, and ocean users agree that permanent habitat protection is needed for Cashes Ledge and other special places.

Join our statement to NOAA asking for their leadership. Click here to urge NOAA to protect our ocean beauty, health, and wealth.


A Shout-Out to Phish Phans Who Supported CLF at Comcast Center

Jun 24, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Conservation Law Foundation gives a hearty round of grateful applause to Phish, the band’s excellent WaterWheel Foundation team, and the band’s fans!  A huge thanks to Beth Montuori-Rowles and Matthew Beck in particular for doing what you do to facilitate Phish’s amazing support for hundreds of charitable organizations throughout the country including supporting CLF back home in Vermont.  The band has provided incredible support to CLF over the years through its charitable giving foundation including several opportunities to talk to phans at the WaterWheel Foundation tables at concerts in New England and New York.

Last night, an intrepid team of CLF’ers was given the opportunity to talk about CLF’s work at the band’s local concert at the Comcast Center, in Mansfield, Massachusetts (for old schoolers like me a/k/a Great Woods).  The sold out show was full of energized and interested folks who were eager to hear about CLF’s work.  Our contacts ranged from high school students, a local watershed association scientist, a former CLF intern (hey Danica!), CLF members, Page McConnell’s very nice aunt and uncle, small business owners, union workers, environmental professionals, an organic chocolate maker, and lots of folks who just wanted to find out more about CLF and WaterWheel.

We took the opportunity to talk about our current effort to stop offshore oil drilling off of the coast of New England.  Yes folks, that’s right, for the first time in decades, the moratorium on oil exploration on George’s Bank — one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems and just off of our coast — expired this year and hasn’t been reinstated.  It should be a no-brainer to reinstate the prohibition given the current disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.  I have heard that there is a risk of oil hitting our coasts even from the Gulf oil disaster, let alone drilling miles away fr0m our own shores.  Well, not so fast!  Congress and President Obama have not renewed the moratorium on drilling along the New England coastline and we need them to act now.

So, CLF and WaterWheel urged phans to show their concerns by signing a petition to President Obama urging him, and Congress to act quickly to renew the drilling moratorium.  We are excited to report that hundreds of concert-goers signed on to make their voices heard.  There is still time to sign the petition on CLF’s webpage at— just hit the take action tab at the top of the page and select Prevent an Oil Disaster in New England. We also let folks know that CLF has played a big role in making sure that the Cape Wind windfarm off of Cape Cod and Nantucket was approved this past spring.

Of course, true to form, the music was fantastic as well.  There is nothing like a Phish show for amazing musicianship and an incredible light show.  Many thanks to Jon Fishman, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell for years of amazing music, wonderful charitable hearts, and a heck of a lot of F-U-N!!!  Thanks again.