Seafood for Thought: Fish Need Homes Too

Robin Just

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

Note: This blog was originally posted on One World One Ocean as part of their National Sustainable Seafood Month Campaign. 

When you buy a piece of cod, do you wonder how many are left in the ocean? Are you curious about what kind of gear was used to catch the fish? Gillnets? Hooks? Or, maybe it was a bottom trawler? Do you consider a different choice – maybe there is a more sustainable fish to buy?

These are important questions to ask, but there’s something more basic to consider as well. Where do these fish live? What essential requirements do these animals have to survive and thrive in the ocean?

Figuring out what “sustainable seafood” means is a familiar dilemma for New Englanders. We have some of the most productive fisheries in the world, but we also have some of the most heavily fished areas in the world. New Englanders work very hard to manage our fisheries, and there is much we are still learning. Yet, there is one simple fact that scientists and many fishermen are very confident about – if fish don’t have healthy habitat, then we don’t have fish.

We have some very special ocean places in New England. Cashes Ledge, an underwater mountain range about 80 miles off the coast of Maine, is home to the deepest and largest continuous kelp forest in all offshore waters along the US east coast. Stretching 22 miles long and 17 miles wide, Cashes Ledge provides food and shelter to an enormous diversity of creatures – from bottom-dwelling tube worms and sponges to endangered North Atlantic right whales and highly migratory blue sharks and Atlantic bluefin tuna. Cashes Ledge is also rich in a variety of groundfish including Atlantic cod, white hake, monkfish, haddock, and redfish. Many kinds of offshore sea birds can be found dining here, such as sooty shearwaters and Wilson’s storm-petrels.

The reason for such enormous diversity and richness lies in the mountain range itself, whose pinnacles interrupt the primary Gulf of Maine current and create a stunning oceanographic phenomenon known as internal waves, which carry high levels of nutrients and oxygen from the sea surface to the sea floor. This unusual circulation pattern results in an incredibly productive ecosystem. It’s no wonder that scientists have used Cashes Ledge as an oceanographic research lab for decades. It represents one of the healthiest existing marine habitats, and if more of the ocean was like it, there would be a lot more fish.

In 2002 many habitat areas in the Gulf of Maine, including Cashes Ledge, were protected from harmful bottom trawling, and these areas have begun a slow recovery. But as large reductions in the catch of cod, yellowtail flounder, and other groundfish loom in New England, there is increasing pressure to open these areas again. Places like Cashes Ledge must be protected if we are going to keep relying on our oceans to feed us and allow our ocean ecosystems to regenerate and thrive. These are irreplaceable resources, and the permanent protection of marine habitat should be a top priority for any sustainable fisheries management plan.

While it is important to think about fish in numbers – how many we catch, how big they are, how many are left – it is equally important to consider the ecosystem on a larger scale, with all its moving parts, dependent on each other for survival. When do the plankton bloom, and where? Where are the currents taking the food? Where will certain fish spawn if their favorite ledge is dragged? How will the animals adapt to our warmer, more acidic oceans?

So, as we celebrate National “Sustainable” Seafood Month, take a moment to consider where your seafood lived before it was on your plate. The ocean ecosystems that produce the oxygen in 2 out of every 3 breaths we take, regulate our climate, drive tens of billions of dollars of economic benefits, and provide us with considerable recreational activities won’t continue to produce such benefits unless we do a better job at protecting the basic components of a healthy ocean. And, while you enjoy the good decision you made about your sustainably caught fish, also be thankful that the fish came from a good home, and do what you can to help keep it that way.

Help support habit protection for special places like Cashes Ledge – click here. 

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4 Responses to “Seafood for Thought: Fish Need Homes Too”

  1. Ralph Pratt

    I am a fishermen for 41 years and fish spotter pilot since 1989 and I agree with
    Robin Just’s article, “Protect the likes of Cashes Ledge”.

    Habitat is where it is at. And, Robin Just correctly points out “it is equally important to consider the ecosystem on a larger scale, with all its moving parts, dependent on each other for survival. When do the plankton bloom, and where? Where are the currents taking the food?”.

    I’d protect all high ground areas like Platts, Jefferies, Fippinies, and even the entire
    50 fathom line from Maine to Se of Chatham Ma.. My unique perspective from my aircraft (400 flight hours per year) reinforces the importance of the ecosystem along the entire New England coast and how important the tide is moving across ledges and banks to produce up welling’s that introduce cold nutrient rich water from the bottom to the surface.

    Instead, we are stuck with a sanctuary status of Stellwagen and have ignored many other important geographical areas that contribute to the ecosystem along our coast.

    If I had my way, I’d remove the Stellwagen bank from sanctuary status and pass a singular congressional law that protects all banks and ledges deemed important to the New England coastal ecosystem from threats like drilling ,excavation, wind farms, etc..

    I watch the pulse of all of these special areas (they truly have a pulse) as they pump life into ocean for all living creatures to survive on.

    I realize that Robin’s article is more toward addressing the opening of previously closed fishing areas and my thoughts are more in line with protecting many more areas at less cost than managing a singular sanctuary.

    PS
    I belong to a commercial ground fish sector that does not support opening previously closed areas for fishing.

    Ralph Pratt

  2. Ralph Pratt

    I am a fishermen for 41 years and fish spotter pilot since 1989 and I agree with
    Robin Just’s article, “Protect the likes of Cashes Ledge”.

    Habitat is where it is at. And, Robin Just correctly points out “it is equally important to consider the ecosystem on a larger scale, with all its moving parts, dependent on each other for survival. When do the plankton bloom, and where? Where are the currents taking the food?”.

    I’d protect all high ground areas like Platts, Jefferies, Fippinies, and even the entire
    50 fathom line from Maine to Se of Chatham Ma.. My unique perspective from my aircraft (400 flight hours per year) reinforces the importance of the ecosystem along the entire New England coast and how important the tide is moving across ledges and banks to produce up welling’s that introduce cold nutrient rich water from the bottom to the surface.

    Instead, we are stuck with a sanctuary status of Stellwagen and have ignored many other important geographical areas that contribute to the ecosystem along our coast.

    If I had my way, I’d remove the Stellwagen bank from sanctuary status and pass a singular congressional law that protects all banks and ledges deemed important to the New England coastal ecosystem from threats like drilling ,excavation, wind farms, etc..

    I watch the pulse of all of these special areas (they truly have a pulse) as they pump life into ocean for all living creatures to survive on.

    I realize that Robin’s article is more toward addressing the opening of previously closed fishing areas and my thoughts are more in line with protecting many more areas at less cost than managing a singular sanctuary.

    PS
    I belong to a commercial ground fish sector that does not support opening previously closed areas for fishing.

    Ralph Pratt

  3. Ralph Pratt

    I am a fishermen for 41 years and fish spotter pilot since 1989 and I agree with
    Robin Just’s article, “Protect the likes of Cashes Ledge”.

    Habitat is where it is at. And, Robin Just correctly points out “it is equally important to consider the ecosystem on a larger scale, with all its moving parts, dependent on each other for survival. When do the plankton bloom, and where? Where are the currents taking the food?”.

    I’d protect all high ground areas like Platts, Jefferies, Fippinies, and even the entire
    50 fathom line from Maine to Se of Chatham Ma.. My unique perspective from my aircraft (400 flight hours per year) reinforces the importance of the ecosystem along the entire New England coast and how important the tide is moving across ledges and banks to produce up welling’s that introduce cold nutrient rich water from the bottom to the surface.

    Instead, we are stuck with a sanctuary status of Stellwagen and have ignored many other important geographical areas that contribute to the ecosystem along our coast.

    If I had my way, I’d remove the Stellwagen bank from sanctuary status and pass a singular congressional law that protects all banks and ledges deemed important to the New England coastal ecosystem from threats like drilling ,excavation, wind farms, etc..

    I watch the pulse of all of these special areas (they truly have a pulse) as they pump life into ocean for all living creatures to survive on.

    I realize that Robin’s article is more toward addressing the opening of previously closed fishing areas and my thoughts are more in line with protecting many more areas at less cost than managing a singular sanctuary.

    PS
    I belong to a commercial ground fish sector that does not support opening previously closed areas for fishing.

    Ralph Pratt

  4. Ralph Pratt

    I am a fishermen for 41 years and fish spotter pilot since 1989 and I agree with
    Robin Just’s article, “Protect the likes of Cashes Ledge”.

    Habitat is where it is at. And, Robin Just correctly points out “it is equally important to consider the ecosystem on a larger scale, with all its moving parts, dependent on each other for survival. When do the plankton bloom, and where? Where are the currents taking the food?”.

    I’d protect all high ground areas like Platts, Jefferies, Fippinies, and even the entire
    50 fathom line from Maine to Se of Chatham Ma.. My unique perspective from my aircraft (400 flight hours per year) reinforces the importance of the ecosystem along the entire New England coast and how important the tide is moving across ledges and banks to produce up welling’s that introduce cold nutrient rich water from the bottom to the surface.

    Instead, we are stuck with a sanctuary status of Stellwagen and have ignored many other important geographical areas that contribute to the ecosystem along our coast.

    If I had my way, I’d remove the Stellwagen bank from sanctuary status and pass a singular congressional law that protects all banks and ledges deemed important to the New England coastal ecosystem from threats like drilling ,excavation, wind farms, etc..

    I watch the pulse of all of these special areas (they truly have a pulse) as they pump life into ocean for all living creatures to survive on.

    I realize that Robin’s article is more toward addressing the opening of previously closed fishing areas and my thoughts are more in line with protecting many more areas at less cost than managing a singular sanctuary.

    PS
    I belong to a commercial ground fish sector that does not support opening previously closed areas for fishing.

    Ralph Pratt

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