New England’s rugged coastline is dotted with some of America’s most historic fishing towns, where fishermen have set out for centuries in search of cod, haddock, Atlantic halibut, and more. But these are also some of the United States’ most depleted and overexploited fish populations—federal regulators, for example, made an unprecedented move this past fall and enacted tough new regulations on commercial and recreational cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine to try and reverse the disastrous decline of this stock. Now, cod and other iconic fish are facing another hurdle: A proposed action threatens to severely undermine conservation efforts for these New England fish by removing protections for key marine habitat.
The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), a federal fishery body in charge of managing New England’s fisheries, is developing a new action that could allow destructive fishing practices in currently protected areas. Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 (OHA2) could roll back conservation efforts by as much as 70 percent, and expose critical fish habitats necessary for breeding, feeding, egg-laying, and more to dirty fishing practices like trawling and dredging. The action, which has been under development since 2005, would weaken years of progress towards fishery protection and recovery, and threaten species that are clearly already overexploited.
“Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 is intended to strengthen existing essential fish habitat (EFH) for fish spawning, feeding, and breeding along New England. Instead, some of the options in front of the NEFMC do the exact opposite,” says Oceana fisheries campaign manager Gib Brogan. “NEFMC has the chance to turn the tide for many of New England’s most commercially important fish, and they must step up to the plate. Introducing bottom trawling and dredging back into these areas is unacceptable.”
Oceana urges NEFMC to adopt the following recommendations to create stronger, effective regulations to improve fishery conditions in New England—both for recovering fish populations and fishermen themselves:
- In the Gulf of Maine: OHA2 should maintain current closures and extend those protections down east into two new proposed protected closures.
- In Georges Bank: OHA2 must improve management of EFH to help recover depleted cod, especially for juvenile cod along the northern edge of Georges Bank. This is necessary to help depleted cod recover from years of overfishing.
- In Southern New England: NEFMC should support should support improving EFH in southern New England by creating a new habitat conservation area in the Great South Channel between Cape Cod and Georges Bank, a known nursery for cod.
NEFMC is accepting comments on the proposed rule through Thursday, January 8. Oceana needs Wavemakers like you to tell The New England Fishery Management Council that Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 is a tremendous step backwards from achieving proper fishery conservation and management. Click here to add your voice in telling NEFMC to make the right decision in protecting cod, halibut, and many other iconic species.