GLOUCESTER, MA- Late Wednesday, the federal government issued a final decision on its thirteen-year-long review of ocean habitat conservation in New England. Initially developed by the New England Fishery Management Council, the action will change how fisheries are managed on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine, two important nursery areas for the iconic and historically overexploited Atlantic cod.
The proposed changes will substantially reduce the total amount of protected seafloor habitat in the region, while also changing the boundaries and regulations for some existing protected areas. Notably, the federal government rejected part of the proposal that would have opened an area of Georges Bank to commercial fishing that has been closed for more than 20 years, which is an important habitat region for recovering Atlantic cod.
Additionally, the federal government approved part of the Council’s proposal to create a new habitat conservation area in the Great South Channel between Cape Cod and Georges Bank, an area Oceana originally proposed protecting in 2005. This area has been known to support Atlantic cod populations and will now be protected from destructive fishing gears.
Oceana fisheries campaign manager Gib Brogan released the following statement in response to the proposal:
“It is encouraging that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted as strong stewards of the oceans and rejected part of the Council’s flawed proposal to open Georges Bank to destructive scallop dredging. This action would have weakened the chances of recovery for the historic groundfish fishery, wreaking more havoc on Atlantic cod populations that have been heavily overfished in recent years.
Oceana also commends the work of the Council and the Fisheries Service to create a habitat management area in the Great South Channel region, a proposal we have urged for more than 20 years. It is gratifying to see the area finally receive much-needed protection. Protecting known nurseries from destructive fishing gear makes good sense for the fish and for the fishery. This area will now help ensure the continued survival of species like Atlantic cod, haddock and flounder for years to come.
New England fishermen have been struggling for decades due to poor management and overfishing. The future of New England’s fisheries cannot tolerate more of the mismanagement that the Council originally proposed.”
The new habitat changes will be finalized in an upcoming formal notice and should take effect early in 2018.