Environmental Initiatives

New England's Protected Waters are Threatened

Data Visualization

Thousands of square miles of protected waters could see the return of damaging, large-scale fishing, putting the recovery of cod and other struggling marine life in peril.

When fish populations crashed in the 1990s, these closed areas were created to protect juvenile fish, spawning areas, and seafloor habitat. Other species benefit too, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and harbor porpoises.

Now fishery managers want to open a third of these sheltered zones to appease commercial fishing interests. A rash decision to remove protections could undo decades of recovery with no long-term economic benefit for our coastal communities.

More than 70,000 people sent comments to NOAA opposing this proposal. The following groups also sent letters warning NOAA of potential harm to marine ecosystems and wildlife:

- More than 100 prominent scientists warned that "the habitat of these areas for managed species will be degraded rapidly ... and what progress has been made in New England will be set back." 

- Charter boat captains, nature tour operators, conservationists and community leaders—some 130 representatives of state and local governments, small businesses and conservation groups—urged NOAA to reject the proposal. 

- Organizations working to protect endangered whales told NOAA that the proposal increases the risk of entanglements with fishing gear, a serious threat to whales.

 

Related Content

Don't Remove Protection When Cod Need It Most

Changing Course for America's Oldest Fishery

Letter to NOAA officials signed by eight marine and fisheries scientists (PDF)

What’s At Stake?

Nearly 8,500 square miles (22,000 square kilometers) of New England's seafloor have been protected from bottom trawling for decades, providing much-needed shelter and habitat for juvenile and spawning fish (dotted outlines). Proposed changes would reduce this area of protected ocean by about half.

Areas in orange show where regulators propose ending seafloor protection, a total of more than 2,500 square miles.

» Jump down to the Media Coverage. «

 

1. Protected Areas Help
Seafloor Habitat

 
sea floor

New England's protected areas date to the mid-1990s when NOAA and regional officials responded to crashes in the most important fish populations. The areas include boulder reefs and cobble-gravel bottom and serve as nursery habitat for juvenile groundfish of many species, including cod, haddock and flounder. Studies also show these areas helped scallops, the region's most valuable seafood product. This photo, courtesy of the Conservation Law Foundation, shows rich kelp habitat in the Cashes Ledge protected area.

 

2. Bottom Trawling and Dredging Damage Seafloor Habitat

 
trawl

Trawling and dredging strip the seafloor of deep sea coral and sponges, create choking clouds of sediment, and alter the very terrain of the seabed. Some scientists call it the most damaging activity humans undertake in the ocean, akin to clear-cutting of forests.

 

3. Protected Areas Help Fisherman

 
murawski

Peer-reviewed science shows closed areas export fish to the surrounding fishery, and some species are more abundant and have larger individuals inside closures. Larger, older fish are better able to reproduce and help rebuild the population over time. One study found a quarter of all New England fishing trips targeting groundfish took place within three miles of a closed area. Average revenue for those trips was twice as high as for fishing trips elsewhere. This map shows fishing effort over one year was heavily concentrated at the edges of protected areas. (from Murawski et. al., ICES, 2005).

 

Media Coverage

Cod Shortage Roils Northeast, Jennifer Levitz, Wall Street Journal

Keep the Fishing Ban in New England, Callum Roberts, New York Times

New England Fishery Managers Trying to Un-do Decades of Protection, Carl Safina,National Geographic

Bracing for a New England Trawling Decision, Emma Bryce,New York Times

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