Quick – who is in charge of the ocean? Good luck answering that; ocean resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. This results in such problems as:
Poor communication and coordination about ocean use decisions;
Slow, reactive management and decisions that drag on unnecessarily to delay or prevent good projects from moving forward;
Exclusion from the process – not all ocean users feel like they have a say in decisions;
Difficulty sharing information about uses – it’s hard to make sound decisions without having all the facts in one place.
Check out the short video above – our concerned octopus has a great idea for helping to change this: regional ocean planning.
Happily, New England is leading the charge in regional ocean planning, a process that brings together all ocean users – from fishermen to whale watchers, from beachgoers to renewable energy developers, to help us figure out how to share the ocean sustainably and maintain the benefits these resources provide for us all.
Once, large predatory cod and other fish were found close to shore in every embayment in New England, chowing down on the plentiful runs of river herring and shad that ran in and out of New England’s rivers. Now, famous coastal fisheries in places like Penobscot Bay have been gone for 50 years or more, despite virtually no commercial finfish fishing during that time. Rebuilding these inshore fisheries will be a long process, but we can start by restoring critical habitat for their prey species.
As former New England Fishery Management Council member David Goethel has often said, fish are pretty much focused on three things: food, sex, and comfortable surroundings (ocean temperatures, habitats and the like). Without prey like river herring, the most persistent preoccupation of the larger predatory fish—food—has been largely missing from inshore waters. And river herring won’t come back until the dams blocking coastal rivers and estuaries are removed, the damaged spawning sites upriver are restored, and the pollution in the region’s rivers is reduced.
Groups throughout New England, from NOAA to the states and municipalities, from large multi-national NGOs like The Nature Conservancy to regional groups like CLF and local watershed associations, have been working for decades to restore those migratory fish runs by tackling all those issues. The New England congressional delegation has historically been very supportive of these efforts through appropriations for restoration and pollution control.
The picture here, taken recently in Plymouth, Massachusetts, shows the removal of the Off Billington Street dam, which was built in the late 1700s and has recently been considered both an ecological problem and a public safety risk. The removal of this dam is part of the larger Town Brook Restoration Project, which will open up hundreds of acres of herring spawning area above these vestigial dams and mill buildings.
The results of that work are only starting to show now. Herring runs are starting to come back, but current returns are still only a shadow of the ecological potential and need. As a crucial step towards rebuilding our inshore fisheries, these efforts can use all the support they can get—both from the environmental community and the fishing community.
What can you do to help? Be part of a global campaign by joining one of your local Hands Across the Sand events this Saturday, May 18th, 12 PM local time, to say “No” to dirty fossil fuels and “Yes” to clean, renewable energy. Hands Across the Sand started in Florida in 2010, and has rapidly grown into a major global campaign. The idea is simple – join your fellow ocean champions on the beach, lock hands, and unite in opposition to dirty energy.
We must identify and protect the beautiful places in New England’s ocean that provide food and shelter and spawning areas that can help our ocean thrive. Places like Cashes Ledge, located about 80 miles east of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. It’s a unique underwater mountain range which provides refuge for a vibrant, diverse world of ocean wildlife.
The steep ridges and deep basins of Cashes Ledge create ideal conditions for marine life as currents mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water at a depth exposed to sunlight. Home to the deepest and largest cold water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard, Cashes Ledge provides an important source of food and a diverse habitat for common New England fish and rare species such as the Atlantic wolffish. This abundance draws in even more ocean wildlife like migrating schools of bluefin tuna, blue and porbeagle sharks, and passing pods of highly endangered North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales.
Cashes Ledge is important not only to marine life but also to scientists hoping to learn about the health and function of New England’s oceans – many scientists believe that Cashes Ledge represents the best remaining example of an undisturbed Gulf of Maine ecosystem. As a result, scientists have used Cashes Ledge as an underwater laboratory for decades.
There are many other beautiful places in the Gulf of Maine, some we know about, and some we may not have identified yet. That’s why it’s essential that our regional planning process includes science-driven work to actively identify and protect these ecologically important areas. The basic chemistry of our ocean is rapidly changing, and if our ecosystems are going to adapt, they will need the space and time to do so. Reducing fishing, shipping, and other pressures on certain areas may be one of the best ways to give them these.
A few weeks ago my colleague Peter Shelley stood in front of fishermen and policymakers and spoke about the startling decline of New England’s cod fishery. Did you know that, since 1982, it’s estimated we have lost more than 80% of the cod in New England’s ocean? That surely should be a wake up call to us all.
That day, Peter’s argument was simple, and backed by sound science. We must act quickly, he argued, to prevent the Atlantic cod – New England’s most iconic fish — from complete and utter collapse.
The response? Hisses and boos. Hisses and boos.
Peter is no fool – he knew what was coming. A fisheries expert who filed the first lawsuit that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor, Peter has heard this same response too often. But still, this response is as startling as it is unhelpful.
The science is clear. Atlantic cod populations are at an all-time historic low. The cod fishery, which for generations has supported a way of life in New England’s coastal communities, may be in complete collapse. Don’t believe me? Watch this video of Peter explaining the science behind this critical issue.
Over the coming 14 days, NOAA – the agency in charge of setting limits on how much cod commercial fisherman can catch – is deciding how much to allow commercial fisherman to catch this year. We at CLF believe that the managers of this public resource have a responsibility to revive and rebuild cod stocks.
Instead, they are continuing a decades-long pattern of risky decision-making that has run this fishery and its communities into the ground.