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.

Moratorium Extended on Drilling in Georges Bank: CLF's Peter Shelley Responds

May 13, 2010 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Today, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter extended a moratorium on oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank for another three years, citing the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as a factor in his decision. Peter Shelley, CLF’s vice president and director of its Massachusetts Advocacy Center, responds:

“For decades, CLF has advocated for the full protection of Georges Bank from the hazards of oil and gas drilling. We are pleased that Nova Scotia Premier Dexter has decided to extend the moratorium on the Canadian side of the border and we applaud his decision. The need to protect the incredible richness of marine life and to make this area available to sustainable fishing far outweigh the risks of catastrophic pollution and habitat degradation caused by oil drilling.”

“CLF believes it is time for a permanent ban on oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank and urges both the Canadian and United States governments to act to do so. There is no more need for study and delay. Georges Bank is an area of international importance and deserves permanent protection from oil drilling now.”

Toxic waves create change

May 7, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The political landscape seems to be shifting in response to BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. An overnight poll of Florida residents shows a remarkable shift in public opinion on the value of oil drilling off of their coast. Are these results at all surprising since Floridians are seeing the approaching slick to their heralded beaches? Let’s put it in the context of the previous Florida oil storm, which came in the manner of a multi-million dollar lobbying onslaught by a secret group of out-of-state oil companies in late 2008 and through 2009. This secret cabal was so careful about hiding their indentities that their names are still unknown to Florida citizens despite creating a debate that was on the front pages for months. What a difference an exploding oil platform makes.  Now, the Democrats in the state legislature are urging a vote for a state constitutional amendment to ban offshore oil drilling.  Gov. Crist is leaning their way.

On the Left Coast, the Governator had a more direct conversion and made one of the more prescient observations since the Great BP Gulf Eruption. “Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?,” he asks. “Why indeed?,” responds Rep. John Garamendi who wasted no time in putting his money where his mouth is by introducing federal legislation to permanently ban new oil and gas drilling along the entire west coast. Garamendi won a special election this spring and may be a freshman, but he’s been around the block and knows his oil. He served as deputy secretary of the Department of Interior during the Clinton administration and as Lieutenant Governor of California where he nixed the silly drilling for cash ploy by Plains Exploration and Production oil company.

Back on the Jersey Shore long-time drilling opponents Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, along with Congressman Frank Pallone, are looking at similar legislation to ban drilling in the mid-Atlantic region. Our own New England environmental champions Rep. Ed Markey and Sen. John Kerry were never shy about protecting our beloved Georges Bank and Stellwagen Bank from drilling even at the peak of the Bush era clamor to eliminate the 20 year moratorium.  Unfortunately, the final legislation was never passed and New England’s ocean is still one bad administrative decision away from a return to the failed drilling proposals of the past. The politics of drilling flow like the motion of the ocean itself with the fate of the K-(G)-L climate legislation. Drilling, billions for nukes, a legislated override of a Supreme Court decision to allow regulation of climate pollution and promises, promises to herd in a stray Republican vote are all now up in the air. Sen. Kerry says the proposed legislation will be unveiled on Wednesday. Here’s hoping the proposed oil drilling provisions in that bill have been subject to the same moment of clarity that have awakened millions of Americans. We need climate protection legislation without adding to the oil-carbon disaster.

Imagine Vermont Covered in Oil

Sep 29, 2009 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

On August 21st, the Thai based energy company PTTEP announced that a “crude oil gas leak incident occurred” in the Timor Sea about 155 miles northwest of Western Australia.  The energy company’s press released continued that “the size of the spill is not known.  Aproximately 40 barrels of oil were discharged from the wellhead in the initial incident.”  In the ensuing month, it has become clear that this oil spill is much more serious than initially thought:

Aerial Photo of the oil spill from the drilling platform in the Timor Sea (Source: SkyTruth)

Aerial Photo of the oil spill from the drilling platform in the Timor Sea (Source: SkyTruth)

  1. As of September 25th, photos from NASA satellites document that the oil slicks and sheen from the spill covered 9,870 square miles, an area even bigger than the state of Vermont.  Part of the oil sheen has been moving perilously close to the Cartier Island Marine Reserve.
  2. According to conservative estimates by the World Wildlife Fund, the rig has been leaking 400 barrels a day — over 14,000 barrels since late August.  That equates to about 600,000 gallons of oil.
  3. When the spill was first reported, the government of Australia predicted it would take 7 weeks to clean up.   Already, it has been 5 weeks and the spill isn’t contained.

This devastating spill may be a world away but US ocean waters, including Georges Bank and the rest of the Gulf of Maine, are also at risk because they no longer are protected from the devastating impacts of oil and gas extraction. As a parting gift before leaving office, President Bush lifted the Presidential Moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas on the Outer Continental Shelf that had been in place since 1990.  On September 30, 2008, Congress followed suit and lifted a longstanding legislative ban on offshore oil and gas leasing as part of a large government operations appropriations bill.  As a result, important habitat in the Gulf of Maine, including Georges Bank — one of the world’s premier fishing grounds — is at risk of industrial scale fossil fuel energy development.

As the Saudi oil fields are tapped out, there is increased pressure to drill in remote areas of the ocean.  For example, at the beginning of September, BP announced a “giant oil discovery” 35,055 feet below the Gulf of Mexico seafloor, which itself is already 4,132 feet below the surface of the ocean.  In an ironic twist of fate, just as the ocean is beginning to bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change (see my earlier blog post on ocean acidification), oil companies are stepping up efforts to locate and drill for oil and gas under the seafloor.

Clearly we need energy — but how do we design a sustainable, climate neutral ocean energy solution that will not put important marine wildlife, habitat and ecosystems at risk? As Greg Watson, then a VP at the Mass Technology Collaborative, noted, New England (and Massachusetts in particular) is “the ‘Saudi Arabia of Wind.'” Of course, we need to responsibly tap this renewable resource — we can’t build wind farms wholesale across the region just because there is a lot of wind on the ocean.  Rather, we need to engage in a thorough marine spatial planning process whereby different human uses and ecological resources are identified and mapped and responsible renewable energy development is sited in a way that doesn’t create unreasonable impacts on those activities or natural resources.  Massachusetts is in the process of doing just that — and has released the first in the nation Draft Ocean Management Plan.  In Maine, the governor appointed an Ocean Energy Task Force to evaluate how to develop offshore renewable energy.  Rhode Island is working on an Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) in part to promote offshore renewable energy development.  Finally, at the federal level, President Obama issued an Executive Memorandum calling for a national ocean policy and marine spatial planning  framework.  CLF is working on all of these issues.

Imagine if all of Vermont were covered in an oil spill.  Well it has been over a month and an equally large spill in the Timor Sea hasn’t been contained.  Oil and gas drilling is still a risky business and, thanks to former President Bush and Congress, these projects are allowable in US ocean waters.  A concerted effort is needed to make oil and gas drilling old news.  We need to usher in a new era of responsible, climate friendly, renewable ocean energy development.  Help CLF make this a reality!

What can you do to help promote responsible marine renewable energy Development?

  1. Sign the CLF Ocean Petition
  2. Learn more about the Massachusetts Draft Ocean Management Plan, Maine Ocean Energy Task Force, Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan and the National Ocean Policy and Marine Spatial Framework.
  3. Learn more about the Timor Sea Spill
Satellite Image of the oil spill in the Timor Sea.  Northwest Australia is in the lower right hand corner of the photo (Source: SkyTruth)

Satellite Image of the oil spill in the Timor Sea. Northwest Australia is in the lower right hand corner of the photo (Source: SkyTruth)

Take Action to Prevent Oil Drilling in New England's Ocean!

Sep 10, 2009 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

thunder-horse-platform-sinking-after-hurricane-dennisGeorges Bank is the underwater icon of New England – a place of legendary bounty for those fishermen willing to brave dangerous storms in search of Atlantic cod. But, the Bank has always been more than a popular and productive fishing ground. In New England, it’s comparable to the Grand Canyon for its popular resonance and cultural significance. Georges Bank is part of our cultural heritage that ties us to New England.

Between 1976 and 1982, three oil companies drilled ten oil and natural gas wells on Georges Bank. They were stopped from additional drilling by Conservation Law Foundation, working fishermen and citizens from around the region. In 1998, President Clinton issued an Executive Order that prevented the leasing of any area in the North Atlantic and, as a result, all of the 1979 Georges Bank leases have been relinquished or have expired. However, in 2008 President Bush removed the moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling and the day before he left office. Georges Bank and the rest of New England’s ocean are again at risk of drilling.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) estimates that the entire Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, which includes Georges Bank, has 3.82 billion barrels of oil. This represents a meager 3.31% of all known and predicted US OCS reserves. According to the US Energy Information Administration statistics, US consumers would use up this oil supply in less than 185 days and the natural gas available would consumed in about 585 days.

We don’t need to gamble with New England’s oceans, wildlife and coastal communities by drilling for oil in the North Atlantic. The Mineral Management Service is taking comments until September 21st on a pro-drilling plan that was designed by the Bush administration to drill in New England’s ocean. Please click here to send a pre-written letter urging the MMS to protect our oceans and wildlife and to promote clean, renewable energy. After you take action, please share this post with family and friends. We need everyone to participate!

The health and security of our oceans, wildlife, coasts and communities depend upon an energy plan that protects and conserves our ocean wildlife and their important habitat areas.

Click here to act now.

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