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Cod fish Illustration by Dina Chapeau

A No Groundfish Take Area in the Stellwagen Dedicated Habitat Research Area

UPDATE:  The preferred alternative Option B will establish Stellwagen Designated Research Area (DHRA)  entirely within the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area.

55 sq. mi. about a fifth of the DHRA to become the Northern Reference  Area (no-take).

0% private recreational fishermen reported in 2010 & 2012 fishing in the Northern Reference Area

29 is the average number of party/charter boats, annual average, that fished the NRA.

5 party/charter boats accounted for the majority of revenue generated from fishing in NRA.

500 is the approximate number of boats with federal permits to fish in the general area.

16 years researchers and the Council have been using sites in the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area to study seafloor recovery from disturbance.

0 is the number of dedicated essential fish habitat research areas in the Gulf of Maine with a reference area.

The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is undertaking a public process to improve protection of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for groundfish (cod, haddock, pollock, hake, etc.).  As part of this process, the Council voted 12 to 2 to select the Stellwagen Dedicated Habitat Research Area with a Northern Reference Area as a preferred alternative in its Draft Omnibus EFH Amendment 2.

LAST CALL for all signatures and correspondence due end of business day Tuesday Jan 6 because decision deadline is looming.  Help us meet this goal by acting as soon as possible.

Take Action with the Ocean River Institute: Tell NOAA and the NEFMC to protect essential fish habitat.

On December 17, Rob Moir testified on four issues before the Council in Gloucester.  He urged approval of the Northern Reference Area within the dedicated research area.  He also called on the council to do more to protect forage fish,an area of particular concern along the northern edge of Georges Bank, and deep sea corals.

East and north of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary lies the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area, an area closed to commercial fishing since 1998, established by the New England Fisheries Management Council.  Option B preferred alternative calls for delineating the southwest third of the closure area as the Stellwagen Dedicated Habitat Research Area (DHRA).  This area, about half in and half out of the Sanctuary, will continue to stay closed to commercial fishing.  Within that area, about one sixth of it, straddling the Sanctuary’s western boundary line would be the Northern Reference Area.  In this nested area groundfishing by recreational and party/charter boats would also be prohibited.

First, the Council needs your voices to make the case for establishing a dedicated research area where both commercial and recreational groundfishing is prohibited. In this small portion of the ocean, let’s give fish sanctuary and refuge from fishing. Tell them this is the best responsible stewardship response to the decline in groundfish.

Second, the Amendment needs to protect spawning and nursery habitat for Atlantic herring, river herring, shad, menhaden, and other forage fish that serve as prey for managed species. Prey are an essential component of EFH and this amendment does not consider the potential adverse effects that loss of this prey or its habitat might have on the managed species.  Not only are these prey fish commercially valuable, they are also food for larger managed stocks of fish that include striped bass, bluefish and tuna, as well as seabirds and whales.  Many of the managed fish that prey on herring pattern their migrations after them to maintain a constant food source as they move about the Atlantic coast.  With respect to river herring, the Council recently did a hotspot analysis in Amendment 5 that could inform this omnibus amendment. Potential loss of these prey fish as well as loss of the habitat that they depend upon should be considered.

Third, the Council should complete development of an alternative to the status quo that would encompass an area along the northern edge of Georges Bank, which extends from the existing Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) West through the area known as “the Fingers.”  This is one of America’s most far flung ocean ecosystems. It is relatively pristine compared with ecosystems closer to shore.  This is an area where massive shoals of Atlantic herring spawn, historically 250 million herring.  Herring may spawn at many different times of the year. The eggs adhere to the bottom.  This habitat area of particular concern also provides nursery habitat for many commercially valuable fish stocks.  Opening up this area to otter trawls, clam dredges, and mid-water herring trawls would be destructive of herring stocks and would negatively impact fish stocks harvested closer to shore.

Fourth, the Council needs to put deep sea corals back into the Amendment. Rob Moir recently attended the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council’s presentation on deep sea corals.   Research was conducted last summer surveying deep water coral reefs from Virginia to Canada’s boundary.  Among other expeditions, NOAA’s Henry S. Bigelow surveyed and collected samples from areas in the northern Gulf of Maine, where deep sea corals were found in waters just below 200 meters deep.  Redfish were frequently seen with specific deep sea corals.  Also observed with deep sea corals were skate and hake.  Deep sea corals were also found to be common in the canyons south of the Gulf of Maine.  Given the very limited extent of the deep sea coral ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine, we urge the Council to put deep sea corals back into this Amendment and to move forward in protecting them.

Protecting and remediating essential fish habitat is a vital part of maintaining productive and resilient marine ecosystems. This EFH amendment offers New England a long-awaited opportunity to improve its ocean habitat protection.

By listening to and carefully considering information brought forward through the public comment period, more robust and inclusive solutions will be found. Responsible stewardship for healthier ocean places and 100% sustainably fished fish stocks are worthy objectives.

22 responses on “A No Groundfish Take Area in the Stellwagen Dedicated Habitat Research Area

  1. Charlie Wade

    I respectfully disagree with your conclusion. Keep in mind that when the Council voted on its preferred alternatives, the work of the Scientific and Statistics Committee had not been completed. Now that the DEIS is complete, it’s clear that the best supported alternative with the highest net positive impacts would be option C, NO reference area.

    Please don’t conflate the need to address current groundfish stock assessments with establishing this DHRA and related reference area(s). The DEIS is clear that net scientific benefits in this small area would be — At Best — marginal or negligible.

    I agree with your observations on spawning and nursery habitat for the lower tiers of the food chain. Critically important and all too often overlooked.

    1. Rob Moir, Ph.D. Post author

      Charlie is correct about the science of assessing groundfish. For the maximum number of groundfish, according to some scientists, the best option would be to maintain the current Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area because it has the greatest footprint in the Gulf of Maine. Scientists believe that if left undisturbed by trawlers and draggers groundfish will recover. However after 16 years of closure there is no empirical evidence, more fish, legitimating their belief. Or, in the words of the DEIS the net scientific benefits (no pun intended) were negligible.

      Our concerns are instead with achieving sustainable management of all fish stocks. First the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area and now the Northern Reference Area, the latter being 1/18th the size of the former, were established by the Fishery Council and not by Stellwagen Sanctuary folks or other scientists. Therefore fishermen have the greatest voice in the science and the management. Science is encouraged, but very little sampling by non-Council science was ever done, despite the great need for it. Meanwhile the Council must continue to manage and make hard choices with much uncertainty.

      To engage recreational fishermen in the management of fisheries, side by side with commercial fishermen in the same area, an exchange is offered in this Amendment where two thirds of the Closure Area will be opened for creation of the smaller Stellwagen Dedicated Habitat Research Area, all entirely within the former Closure Area. A one sixth area within the DHRA, is the Northern Reference Area. Here recreational and commercial groundfishing would be restricted – only groundfishing and not tuna, striper, blue, or herring. Please support establishment of the Northern Reference Area.

  2. Tonia Deur

    We must protect all our water from pollution, overfishing, and putting money interests over all, else we are on our way to an epic fail.

  3. Peter

    Protecting and remediating essential fish habitat is vital. We must protect all our water from pollution & overfishing. We don’t want to do to our oceans what we have already done to he land.

  4. Rob Moir, Ph.D. Post author

    LAST CALL UPDATE: The preferred alternative Option B will establish Stellwagen Designated Research Area (DHRA) entirely within the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area.

    55 sq. mi. about a fifth of the DHRA to become the Northern Reference Area (no-take).

    0% private recreational fishermen reported in 2010 & 2012 fishing in the Northern Reference Area

    29 is the average number of party/charter boats, annual average, that fished the NRA.

    5 party/charter boats accounted for the majority of revenue generated from fishing in NRA.

    500 is the approximate number of boats with federal permits to fish in the general area.

    16 years researchers and the Council have been using sites in the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area to study seafloor recovery from disturbance.

    0 is the number of dedicated essential fish habitat research areas in the Gulf of Maine with a reference area.

  5. Larry Lawton

    The goal is and should be sustainable fisheries and protection of the marine environment. The most destructive fishing practices, such as bottom trawling which destroys vital habitat, need to be banned or at the least severely restricted. Fishing techniques which catch only the intended species and not scarce or endangered species should be encouraged and given priority. If the scientific evidence supports closed sanctuaries as the best way to rebuild diminished fish stocks, then closed sanctuaries need to be established. It might be necessary to provide some closed sanctuaries to determine their effectiveness. Arguments to allow overfishing for current gain or profit must be rejected out of hand. We owe it to future generations to leave them the same natural wealth we inherited.

    Thank you for considering my comments.

  6. Mady Marantz

    Protecting the fish in the ocean of this area is CRITICAL. We must think of the future and the meaningful saving of nature’s balance.

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