Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

More than 150 Thousand People Urge Protection for Ocean Habitat

Scientists say protecting habitat is one of the best ways to help cod and other depleted fish recover. Photo: Brian Skerry/New England Ocean Odyssey

This week the New England Fishery Management Council has scheduled pivotal votes on a proposal that could drastically reduce the places set aside to safeguard habitat for fish. We’ve told you that the scientific community weighed in on the matter with a letter signed by nearly 150 researchers and scientists, urging strong habitat protection. And we’ve told you that the region’s top federal official on fisheries wrote a strong letter expressing concern about the proposed reductions in habitat protection. But what has the public had to say?

During the public comment period an extraordinary number of individuals and organizations responded—159,502. Of those who commented via letters, e-mails, and petitions, 96 percent (153,694) indicated that they would like to see an increase in habitat areas, not the two-thirds reduction possible in the council’s proposal. That’s an overwhelming vote of public support for habitat protection.

And the public response was similar for the specific areas and issues council is considering. For example, 99 percent or more of the commenters asked to keep sensitive habitat areas such as Cashes Ledge and the Western Gulf of Maine closure intact.

Thousands of people also spoke up for protection for the important biological components of healthy ocean habitat. More than 155,000 comments urged better protection of spawning areas and over 5,000 comments specifically addressed the issue of forage fish. These prey species are a critical part of essential fish habitat, and yet the council’s proposal does not adequately address the forage needed for the predator species the council manages.

Sometimes in debates over fishery management it’s easy to lose sight of just whose ocean it is that we’re talking about. These waters and the resources they contain belong to the American public, and management decisions should reflect the public good. It might behoove those decision makers to listen to what the public has to say.



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