New England Canyons and Seamounts are the Atlantic’s Deep Sea Treasures

May 20, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New England is a region full of remarkable marine landscapes. An area like Cashes Ledge speaks to the immense beauty and diversity found in our local ocean, but it is not the only one.

Approximately 150 miles off the coast of southern New England, where the continental shelf drops off into the ocean abyss, lays a chain of undersea canyons and nearby seamounts that are home to an incredible richness of marine life. The canyons plunge thousands of feet deep, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the seamounts rise as high as 7,000 feet above the seafloor, higher than any mountain east of the Rockies.

Much like Cashes Ledge, these habitats give rise to an elaborate underwater world of marine species. Communities of brilliant cold-water corals line the walls of the canyons and seamounts supporting a  diverse deep-sea ecosystem and providing refuge for abundant fish and invertebrate species. Nearly 1,000 species have been identified in the New England Canyon and Seamount region, and researchers are discovering more with every expedition.

The nutrient rich cold water brings an abundance of plankton, squid, and forage fish, such as mackerel, This in turn attracts schools of tuna, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals, such as endangered sperm whales and North Atlantic right whales – both rare, iconic species of the region.

The depth and ruggedness of the region have naturally protected the New England Canyons and Seamounts from human disturbance thus far, but this may not always be the case. This region is particularly vulnerable to fishing and offshore development. One sweep of a bottom trawl would have devastating effects for the fragile deep-sea community, and future any development in the region, such as drilling or mining, would pose great risk to marine mammals and fish.

A colony of bamboo coral observed on Mytilus Seamount. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer.

A colony of bamboo coral observed on Mytilus Seamount. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer.

Scientists have also suggested that deep-sea coral communities are among the most vulnerable to ocean warming and ocean acidification. Maintaining the health of the canyons and seamounts will be imperative in the fight against climate change.

The New England Canyons and Seamounts region is another special place that deserves protection.

This Week on TalkingFish.org – May 11-15

May 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

May 15 – On National Endangered Species Day, Lingering Right Whales Are At Increased Risk – Today is National Endangered Species Day. Each year on the third Friday in May, National Endangered Species Day celebrates learning about our endangered and threatened species and how we can help protect them. New England is home to a number of endangered species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale, who’s estimated global population is only about 522 individuals.

May 15 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, May 15 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, a committee will study the possibility of a New England buyback program; NEFMC released its latest Council report; managers and tribes discuss elver fishery management; the Puffin Project is on the radio; NOAA releases red tide predictions; NOAA awards ten scallop research projects; NYTimes opinion article says WWII was a turning point for fisheries; and the House CJS appropriations bill call for budget cuts to NOAA, NASA, and NIST.

This Week on TalkingFish.org – April 27-May 1

May 1, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

April 29 – Menhaden Meals – Atlantic menhaden are sometimes called “the most important fish in the sea” because so many animals depend on them for food. Here are just a few of those birds, fish, and marine mammals enjoying their favorite meal.

April 29 – Tracking Fish Oil Supplements to the Source – Are fish oil supplements really improving our health but hurting our oceans? That’s one question New York Times bestselling author Paul Greenberg is exploring for his next book, due out next year, The Omega Principle: The Health of Our Hearts, the Strength of Our Minds, and the Survival of our Oceans All in One Little Pill.

April 30 – Puffin Project Coming to the New England Aquarium – Director of National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin Steve Kress and award-winning journalist/photographer Derrick Jackson will join the New England Aquarium Lecture Series Tuesday, May 5 to discuss their new book, Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock.

April 30 – Making the Most of the Most Important Fish – It’s time to modernize management of Atlantic menhaden – Fisheries managers for the Atlantic Coast states face an important decision May 5 about what’s sometimes called the most important fish in the sea: Atlantic menhaden. Officials could increase the allowable catch to appease the East Coast’s largest fishing industry. Or they could begin to manage this forage species in a way that protects fish, seabirds, and whales, as well as the interests of the people who care about and depend on those animals from Florida to Maine.

May 1 – 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.

May 1 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, May 1 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, new rules take effect as 2015 fishing year begins; House Natural Resources Committee advances MSA reauthorization bill; NEFMC votes down proposal to close Stellwagen Bank; a new report looks at U.S. fishing trends; black sea bass are now frequent visitors in Maine; ME Marine Resources Panel allows alewife migration up St. Croix River; Casco Bay water chemistry is changing; NH, RI, and ME receive fishery disaster relief funds; State reps sponsor a bill that could bring $100 million to fisheries research; Atlantic Herring Amendment 8 comment period closes; a NYTimes story highlights NEAQ’s microgrant program; and construction begins on the first U.S. offshore wind farm.

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

Apr 24, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

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.

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

This Week on TalkingFish.org – April 20-24

Apr 24, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

April 21 – NOAA Warns New England Fishery Council Not to Weaken Ocean Habitat Protection – You might think that habitat protection would be an obvious priority in New England, which has the country’s worst record on overfishing and depleted fish stocks. Unfortunately, this long-overdue plan to manage the region’s ocean habitat could end up slashing protected areas by roughly 70 percent.

April 21 – Incorporating Community into Regional Ocean Planning – It is well documented that the waters off of New England are changing. Between shifts in the ecosystem and changing use patterns, the future of coastal communities is uncertain. What is certain is that the future of our coastal communities is intertwined with decisions about how we use and manage these waters. A well-executed ocean plan will help these communities protect their future, improve ocean management, and result in healthier ecosystems. The Regional Planning Body will take significant steps towards addressing the underlying concerns raised by fishermen and fishing communities around New England.

April 21 – More than 150 Thousand People Urge Protection for Ocean Habitat – During the OHA public comment period an extraordinary number of individuals and organizations responded—159,502. That’s an overwhelming vote of public support for habitat protection.

April 22 – Protect New England’s Fish Habitat: The Talking Fish Top 10 – Unfortunately, the habitat proposal appears likely to sharply reduce the overall area set aside for habitat protection. As regular readers know, Talking Fish has covered this issue in depth. Here’s the Talking Fish “Top Ten” list of reasons to protect our ocean habitat.

April 24 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, April 24 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, NEFMC takes action on habitat amendment; the scallop industry responds to the Regional Administrator’s letter; NEFSC partners to improve fishery surveys; U.S. relies on coldwater shrimp imports; NMFS approves new Atlantic sea scallop fishing rules; Maine’s baby eel season starts slowly; NOAA releases implementation plan for recreational fisheries policy; former CFN journalist receives award for excellence; Mass Lobstermen join national seafood group; and NOAA urges boats to slow down for right whales.

“Good Fishing” at Cashes Ledge

Jan 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

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 Pubic Library) is one map that caught our eye.

CL good fishing

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.

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

Protect Cashes Ledge and Other Essential Fish Habitat: CLF and Thousands of Supporters Weigh in with Fishery Council

Jan 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

In comments submitted Friday in response to the long-awaited Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 and its underlying analysis, CLF strongly criticized the draft Amendment proposed by the New England Fishery Management Council, stating that it does not comply with the law and puts the region’s goal of producing valuable, diverse, and sustainable fisheries even further from reach.

Thousands of CLF members and supporters joined us to urge John Bullard, the regional administrator for NOAA, to reject the Council’s risky, ill-conceived and scientifically unsound proposals. The Council’s proposed Amendment would reduce protected habitat, in some scenarios by as much as 70%, and allow destructive bottom trawling in areas that have served for nearly 20 years as refuges for commercial fish and other protected marine species.

A red cod swims in the healthy kelp forest on Cashes Ledge

A red cod swims in the healthy kelp forest on Cashes Ledge.

Our experts’ analysis of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement found the document to be deeply flawed, rife with inconsistencies and contradictions, and so lacking in the required analysis on a number of fronts as to be illegal, let alone viable as a decision-making tool.

Central among our concerns is the Council’s preferred alternative that would allow commercial groundfishing in large portions of Cashes Ledge, a highly sensitive ecosystem unique in the North Atlantic for its abundant variety of species and diverse array of habitats, including a massive kelp forest. Cashes Ledge is essential habitat for the threatened cod, as well as haddock, pollock, American plaice and other groundfish species, sea birds, and North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals, among many other species. Removing the existing protections from Cashes Ledge would be irresponsible given the lack of compelling data to support such actions and inconsistent with the substance, goals, and objectives of the Amendment. Therefore, we have demanded that the Cashes Ledge and Jeffrey’s Bank closed areas remain closed.

Moreover, virtually nothing was proposed to protect spawning and juvenile cod despite an extensive scientific analysis of “hotspots,” and the habitat protections offered for Georges Bank in place of the existing protected areas were all fundamentally inadequate.

The draft Amendment and DEIS, which can be broadly summarized as favoring drastic reductions in habitat protection and limited restrictions on destructive fishing gear in New England, seek to perpetuate the Council’s history of risky management decisions driven by its fishing industry members’ self-interest rather than the best available data and science, or the broader public interest in our ocean.

It would be difficult to overstate the critical importance of successfully tackling Essential Fish Habitat protection in New England at this time. Numerous groundfish stocks, including severely depleted Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine cod and yellowtail flounder, are in a deepening crisis. Ocean acidification and the impacts of climate change on New England’s ocean have never been more evident, and the implications more uncertain. At no time in the management of our oceans has there been a greater need for precaution to mitigate this ecological uncertainty.

After months of hearing public input on proposals affecting the future of Essential Fish Habitat in New England’s ocean, the decision now facing NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council is deeply complex, but broadly simple: at a time when the pressures on New England’s iconic fish species and the industry that depends on them are greater than ever, act in the interest of long-term sustainability of our fishery resources and the communities they support, or risk all by pursuing short-term profits.

You can continue to show your support for protecting Cashes Ledge and for strong habitat protection throughout New England’s ocean by contacting your senators and representatives. And, if you haven’t already, please sign our letter to NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard asking him to permanently protect Cashes Ledge. (If you have already signed, please spread the word and ask your friends to sign, too!)

You can read a summary of CLF’s comments on the OHA2 here, or find the full document here for more information.

Study Commission Nears Final Recommendations to Counter Ocean Acidification

Dec 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson, Lobsterman in Friendship, Maine

The sixteen member commission empowered by the Maine legislature to conduct a brief, six month investigation into the effects of coastal and ocean acidification on fish and shellfish commercially harvested in Maine nears the end of its term and recommends further study and other measures to immediately begin to address the impacts of ocean acidification.

As noted in prior blogs here and here, offshore ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, gets deposited in the ocean, and mixes with water to form carbonic acid. Near shore coastal acidification occurs when runoff from storms carries nitrogen, acidic fresh water, and other pollutants to the ocean. The nitrogen and other nutrient rich pollutants cause algal blooms, which die and release carbon dioxide into the ocean. Both forms of acidification dissolve shells of larval shellfish and possibly stunt growth of lobsters and crabs by causing them to form extra hard outer shells.

The study commission did an impressive job. Its members were appointed by the legislature and by the Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. They worked with a practically non-existent budget and largely volunteered their time away from their jobs as lobstermen, shellfish harvesters, shellfish farmers, marine researchers, scientists and more. During meetings and on various subcommittees, the members generously shared their expertise and commitment to working together.

The result of their efforts will be seen soon, when the Commission releases its final report. The near final draft contains a complete listing of all research regarding the effects of ocean acidification on Maine marine life and recommends actions we can take to prevent ocean acidification from destroying our commercial shellfisheries, including lobsters which account for 80% of commercial landings in Maine. The report also appends proposed new legislation that would establish a long term study commission to coordinate further research into the many areas where we lack data and further measures to combat ocean acidification.

Here are some things that we all can do to protect our shellfish from ocean acidification:

  • Reduce carbon emissions- drive less, switch from oil to cleaner heat sources, explore ways to be more energy efficient
  • Reduce or eliminate use of lawn fertilizers or time their spread to eliminate runoff of fertilizers into coastal marine waters
  • Do not dump pet waste or other waste down sewers
  • Support legislation that reduces carbon emissions on a national and local level
  • Support the proposed law to establish a more permanent ocean acidification study commission

For more information about the study, read these stories from Portland Press Herold and MPBN.

Take Action to Protect Ocean Habitat

Dec 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

New England’s ocean is a unique and breathtakingly beautiful marine environment. One of the extraordinary places that CLF has featured as part of its ocean conservation efforts 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 to a fisheries management proposal that would eliminate its currents protections—and ultimately do more harm than good to Cashes and numerous other fragile ocean habitat in our region.

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

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!