New England Fisheries

Make Your Voice Heard – Three Opportunities For Public Comment

A high diversity coral community living together on a hard rock area. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts.

Perhaps in honor of National Seafood Month, but more likely the result of a slow-moving federal government, October is quite the busy month for fisheries management in New England with three overlapping and long-awaited for public comment periods. NOAA Fisheries is currently seeking public comment on three management actions developed by the New England Fishery Management Council: (1) Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan, (2) the Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment, and (3) the Clam Dredge Exemption Framework Adjustment.

For those interested in submitting feedback to the agency, let’s quickly breakdown each of these proposed actions as comment deadlines are fast approaching.

Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan – recommend approval

Comment deadline: October 21

If approved, Amendment 8 would be a big win for the little fish in our ocean ecosystem. Atlantic herring serve as a major food source for numerous marine species including larger fish like cod, bluefin tuna, and striped bass, as well as humpback whales, Atlantic puffins, and more. To date, though, herring catch limits have been set with only herring fishermen in mind.

Amendment 8 proposes a new “control rule” that accounts for herring’s important role in the ecosystem. The new control rule would keep an estimated additional 31 million pounds of herring in the ocean over the next three years, providing more essential forage fish for predators and helping to rebuild the declining population.

Additionally, Amendment 8 proposes a buffer zone that prevents midwater trawl vessels from fishing in New England’s coastal waters. The buffer would span more than 12,000 square miles of ocean, protecting coastal herring populations from intensive fishing pressure and helping to prevent localized depletion and user conflicts.

Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment – recommend approval

Comment deadline: October 25

The Coral Amendment is another overall win for New England’s ocean. Unknown to many, deep-sea corals can be found throughout New England, including close to shore in the Gulf of Maine and in the deep canyons off Georges Bank. If approved, the Coral Amendment would protect more than 25,000 square miles of this fragile seafloor habitat.

In the Gulf of Maine, the Coral Amendment proposes to protect two discrete areas – Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge – from the impacts of mobile bottom-tending gear and designates a research area in Jordan Basin (no fishing restrictions are proposed for the latter at this time). On Georges Bank, the Coral Amendment proposes a broad coral protection zone restricting fixed and mobile bottom-tending gear from operating deeper than 600 meters in the specified zone.

While an overall win, unfortunately the Coral Amendment does still leave known corals and coral habitat unprotected and exempts both the red crab and lobster fisheries. Perhaps NOAA Fisheries will at least reconsider these exemptions.

Clam Dredge Exemption Framework Adjustment – recommend disapproval

Comment deadline: October 17

We’re in New England after all, so we knew they couldn’t all be winners. The Clam Dredge Framework proposes to exempt one of the most destructive fishing gears – hydraulic clam and mussel dredges – from three subareas of the recently protected Great South Channel Habitat Management Area (HMA). The Great South Channel HMA was designated for protection just last year because of its complex benthic habitat that is important for juvenile cod and other fish species.

Originally, the Framework sought to identify areas within the HMA where the impacts of dredging would be minimal and temporary; however, simply put, impacts from clam dredges are almost never minimal nor temporary.

Allowing one of the most destructive forms of fishing in the Great South Channel HMA not only poses significant threat to the habitat but also to the species that frequent the area. Fishermen themselves have identified numerous spawning areas for Atlantic cod within the Great South Channel HMA, including in one of the proposed exemptions areas. Given cod’s continued overfished status, managers should be minimizing potential impacts to spawning aggregations and spawning habitat to the greatest extent possible. Additionally, the Great South Channel is critical habitat for highly endangered North Atlantic right whales and serves as an important foraging ground and migratory corridor for the whales. Dredging in the area could pose a risk to these animals, and the agency has not taken any additional steps to prove otherwise.

Approving the Clam Dredge Framework’s proposed exemption areas would call into question the agency’s commitment to habitat protection in New England and open the door for future actions like it.

 


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