Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

A Reminder on World Oceans Day, 2015

An olive cod swims through kelp at Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry.

Happy World Oceans Day!

Since 2008, the United Nations has officially recognized June 8th as World Oceans Day. On this day, people around the world celebrate the ocean and all of its wonders. The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is “Healthy oceans, healthy planet,” recognizing the incredible value the ocean offers to all people, wildlife, and the Earth as a whole.

At this time in New England, World Oceans Day serves as a timely reminder of the need to protect our ocean ecosystems. Next week, the New England Fishery Management Council will finalize its votes on the Omnibus Habitat Amendment, and then submit its habitat proposal to NOAA Fisheries for final approval, disapproval, or partial approval.

A crucial part of healthy oceans is healthy ocean habitat, which serves to sustain healthy fish populations, increase resiliency to climate change, provide recreational enjoyment, and so much more. Sadly, the habitat proposal appears likely to greatly reduce overall habitat protection in New England, contrary to the Council’s own goals and objectives for the amendment.

As a reminder, here are Talking Fish’s “top ten” reasons to protect ocean habitat (posted April 22, 2015):

1.  We need more habitat protection, not less

In its current form, the plan would eliminate about 70% of protected areas. That’s a combined total of more than 6,000 square miles, which is roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

2.  We need to protect important species

Years of overfishing and a failure to act have caused Gulf of Maine cod numbers to plummet to historic lows. We must protect essential habitat if there is any chance of recovery.

3.  A warning from the region’s top federal fishery official

NOAA’s regional administrator wrote to the council’s to say that the habitat proposal would “significantly weaken, rather than improve, essential fish habitat.”

4.  We need to follow the law

In that same letter, NOAA’s regional administrator said he “feels strongly” that the council’s current proposal on habitat would “not meet the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s requirements.

5.  We need to use the best science

NOAA’s regional administrator said there is compelling analysis that indicates the proposed reductions in habitat “have not made use of the best available scientific information.” And speaking of science…

6.  Scientists have spoken up for habitat protection

Nearly 150 prominent researchers signed a letter to NOAA officials urging them to protect fish refuge and spawning habitats. They wrote that “sufficient habitat is a crucial component of recovery for struggling populations such as the collapsed Atlantic cod.”

7.  Over 150,000 members of the public support habitat protection

During the public comment period, more than 159,000 people voiced their opinion to the council. Ninety-six percent of them urged more protection for vital ocean habitat and asked to keep special areas such as Cashes Ledge closed to fishing.

8.  Habitat protection increases resiliency to climate change

The Gulf of Maine is warming at a faster rate than nearly any other body of water in the world’s oceans. A NOAA 2012 report said that minimizing habitat loss “may be one of the most effective, and doable, ways to increase resilience to climate change.”

9.  New England lags behind on habitat protection

NOAA’s most recent Status of the Stocks report shows that other regional fishery councils have been able to rebuild fish stocks while simultaneously protecting essential habitat. There shouldn’t be anything stopping New England from doing the same.

10.  Cod’s recovery could hang in the balance

Researchers at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute found that protected areas hold more of the larger, older, females in the remaining cod population. These especially productive egg-layers will be major players in a cod recovery, and protecting the places they need is important.


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