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.