Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

On Cod, Climate, and Closed Areas

A map of the New England groundfish closures. NOAA is considering action to open areas in orange that do not overlap with shaded areas to commercial fishing. Map Credit: NOAA Information Sheet

New England’s fish are already feeling the heat from global warming. Record high water temperatures are having an impact on our coastal ecosystem, and carbon pollution’s acidifying effect on seawater is a big concern. Both are likely to compound the problems from past overfishing and habitat degradation.

But beyond trying to limit greenhouse gas emissions, what can we do about it? It turns out, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently offered some answers.

Along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, NOAA now has a strategy for helping wildlife adapt to climate change. The report is a good primer on how climate change is affecting our natural resources from forests to fish. And it has some clear, common sense recommendations.

The NOAA strategy’s #1 goal is to “conserve habitat to support healthy fish” (Pg. 55). Goal #2 is to “manage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions” (Pg. 60). Action items include “reduce destructive capture practices (e.g., fisheries bycatch, destructive fishing gear),” and “reduce negative impacts of capture practices and gear on important habitats for fish” (Pg. 78).

It’s good to know NOAA has a solid plan for helping fish adapt to climate change. Now, if only someone would tell NOAA.

You see, while NOAA’s right hand says protect habitat to help fish adapt to climate change, the left hand has proposed to end protection for about 5,000 sq. miles of seabed habitat.

A proposal now open for public comment would allow bottom trawling to return to closed areas that have sheltered spawning and juvenile groundfish for nearly two decades.

There’s a disturbing disconnect between the admirable goals of the adaptation strategy and the actual practice NOAA is considering. It’s time to recognize that climate change is here. Current management decisions have big implications for our fish and whether they will weather the climate changes ahead.



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