Ocean Conservation

The Atlantic Ocean is one of New England’s most distinguishing features, its vast beauty a fundamental part of our sense of place. But all that the ocean provides — tourism, recreation, sustenance, and commerce — is under threat from overfishing, industrial development, pollution, and climate change.

CLF is playing a leadership role in addressing these issues, working to create sustainable fisheries, protect special places, manage ocean sprawl, and fight ocean pollution. Using innovative approaches backed by sound science, and legal advocacy, CLF aims to protect ocean ecosystems and help our coastal communities thrive.

New England’s fisheries were once the stuff of legends, but today important commercial species like Georges Bank cod are scarce due to overfishing and mismanagement. CLF’s efforts are starting to turn this situation around. For decades, CLF has worked tirelessly with a range of stakeholders to improve fisheries management, leaving a trail of critical legislation and new policy in our wake. Perhaps most notably, CLF compelled the federal government to introduce comprehensive rebuilding plans for cod, flounder, haddock, and other important groundfish in the North Atlantic. Our work continues to advance science-based methods to ensure a sustainable fishing industry.

The productivity of New England’s fisheries relies in part upon maintaining critical ocean habitat. For that reason and to protect the rich diversity of other animals and plants found in the region’s ocean waters, CLF has prioritized for conservation several important ecological areas, or “special places,” in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. These spots are some of the most biodiverse in New England’s ocean and serve as refuges for rare, threatened, or endangered species.

Ocean habitat is also threatened in New England by increasing pressure from existing and new ocean uses, including oil and gas drilling, shipping, sand and gravel mining, and renewable energy development. Beginning with a landmark lawsuit in 1977, CLF has successfully prevented offshore oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank, one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds and a biodiversity hotspot. More recently, CLF helped to pioneer comprehensive ocean management planning in New England, applying the principles of land use management to balance ecosystem protection and beneficial development in our oceans.

Another blow to ocean health is storm water runoff from coastal development. As we pave more and more land, rainfall is unable to percolate into the ground for cleaning and storage. Instead, it runs across pavement, collecting pollutants as it goes: a toxic brew of nutrients, pesticides, bacteria, metals, chlorides, sediments, petroleum residues, and automobile fluids. When these pollutants reach our bays and estuaries, which are critical nurseries for fisheries, they sicken or kill shellfish and juvenile fish.

Finally, climate change is expected to have myriad effects on the ocean. As the frozen poles are melting, sea level is rising, which could inundate coastal New England. The temperature of the ocean is rising, and that, coupled with precipitation changes and possibly current changes could dramatically affect abundance, distribution, and interaction of marine species. If the “great ocean conveyer belt” changes course or stops, regional weather patterns could shift dramatically. Finally, as carbon increases in the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs more carbon as well, making it more acidic and threatening sea life.

In spite of these daunting challenges, the health of New England’s ocean is improving thanks to CLF’s years of hard work and dedication. Through CLF’s continued vigilance and good relationships with New England’s ocean stakeholders, future generations may yet be able to enjoy and profit from this rich local resource.

Priscilla Brooks, Director, Ocean Conservation Program.