Lobster
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Announcing Our November Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Congratulations to Zach Whalen, our winning photographer for November’s contest! We love this unusual view of a common sight in New England’s waters and the way it showcases the spectacular coloring of a northern lobster.

Do you have a great photo of New England’s oceans to share?  Enter our photo contest! Each month, Brian Skerry will lead our team of judges to select a winner, who will receive a copy of Brian’s book Ocean Soul.

Entering is easy! Explore New England’s oceans, take some photographs and then share them with our online community on Flickr™. All you need to do is add your photos to the New England Ocean Odyssey group and tag them “PhotoContestNEOO”. Find out more here.

Be sure to check our our New England Ocean Odyssey Facebook page where we’ll continue to post honorable mentions from the photo contest and other great ocean photography.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Around 300,000 pounds of oyster shells from Boston restaurants are thrown away. Two researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design have a better idea. Photo credit: Jules Morgan via Flickr
Around 300,000 pounds of oyster shells from Boston restaurants are thrown away. Two researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design have a better idea. Photo credit: Jules Morgan via Flickr
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Oyster Gardens for a Healthy Boston Harbor

Categories: Guest Posters

Jenny Corlett & Kelly Murphy are researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design exploring the productive potential of the oyster waste stream in Boston.

Do you like oysters? If so, you’re not alone. 4.1 million pounds of oysters were harvested in Massachusetts alone last year. Oysters have always been part of New England’s foodscape, and oyster reefs were a crucial element of the underwater ecosystem that filtered nutrients from our estuaries and maintained our harbors rich natural resource areas.

Oysters not only clean our water, but also act as shoreline buffers that dissipate wave energy. What’s more, oyster reefs support critical fisheries by providing habitat for other marine life. Oyster reefs, however, are now one of the most severely impacted marine habitats on Earth: over 85% have been lost globally.

We hear a lot about oysters these days – from their ability to reinforce coastlines against increasingly powerful storms, to filter pollutants out of our water (the average adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day), and about the foodie culture surrounding their consumption. There is, however, an important gap in our oyster conversation: what about the waste associated with their consumption?

What happens to oyster shells once they’ve been discarded?

Most people have never thought about what’s left over eating oysters. But did you know that:

  • Over 40 restaurants in Boston serve oysters.
  • Each restaurant generates around 20 pounds of oyster shells per day.
  • Together, this totals over 300,000 pounds of oyster shells per year in Boston alone.
  • Only 4 restaurants currently recycle their shells, meaning that of the vast majority of shells are currently landfilled.

 

Why? Because Boston doesn’t have anywhere better to put them. But within this broken cycle lies an opportunity for Boston to address two key problems: discarded shells and oyster reef decline. While there are numerous productive uses for discarded oyster shell, the best use by far is as a surface for juvenile oysters to attach to and grow on. The link between the two problems presents an exciting opportunity to propose a better system.

Imagine if all those discarded shells were used to help build new oyster reefs and a re-establish a healthy harbor ecosystem! By establishing a city-wide oyster gardening program we could close the gap in the oyster waste stream.

What is oyster gardening? The idea is simple: raise native oysters in cages attached to docks or existing infrastructure. Once the oysters reach 3 inches, they can be dropped into approved waters to construct and replenish oyster reefs.

Oyster gardening could simultaneously restore native oyster reefs, improve local water quality, and reconnect the people of Boston with their waterfront. There are a number of successful precedents for oyster gardening programs around the region. Oyster gardens are thriving in places like New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Delaware, and New Hampshire, to name a few.

The waters of the Boston Harbor are mostly closed to shell fishing due to the risk of oysters being harvested illegally in polluted waters. However, nursery areas for shellfish seeding projects are permitted if they are transplanted to approved waters. Over the last three years, the Massachusetts Oyster Project has proven that oysters can survive in Boston Harbor. In just a few years, oyster gardeners could use discarded restaurant shells to grow thousands of oysters in the Boston Harbor and re-stock endangered reefs in the region.

What can you do to help? Get involved in the oyster discussion directly: the next time you order oysters at a restaurant, ask whether they recycle their shells. Just by asking that simple question, you can put the thought into the minds of the chef, wait staff, and restaurant owners. Use your power as a consumer to help frame the discussion and generate support for oyster shell recycling and gardening.

If you’re interested in learning more about other efforts to re-establish oysters in the Boston Harbor, take a look at the Massachusetts Oyster Project  and Green Harbors Project at UMass Boston.

RedCodandCunner2Branded
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New England Fisheries Managers: Get Your Facts Straight about Habitat

Thousands of acres of New England’s protected ocean wildlife habitat in such places as Cashes Ledge, Stellwagen Bank, Jeffrey’s Ledge and Georges Bank is again at risk as the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) heads into next week’s meeting.

The NEFMC is scheduled to identify its preferences for which ocean habitat areas will be protected from the impacts of bottom trawling and other harmful fishing gear. This work is part of the NEFMC’s ongoing development of the Omnibus Habitat Amendment (OHA). While a final OHA decision is not expected until June, the selection of preferred alternatives will set the stage for final scientific analysis and public involvement to decide the fate of the best remaining habitat in all of New England’s ocean.

Some of the ocean habitat areas have been protected for twenty years and served in the recovery of Georges Bank haddock stocks and the now famous scallop fishery that has made the City of New Bedford the top fishing revenue port in the U.S. for the past 13 years. Two important places at risk are the magical Cashes Ledge, with its dense, kelp-forested mountains and healthy surrounding ecosystem, and the Western Gulf of Maine protected area, a refuge for highly productive female cod that is a particular favorite of the recreational fishery.

With New England’s groundfish populations at historic lows and the prognosis for recovery not getting any better wouldn’t you think that any decision affecting these places—even preliminary ones—would be made with a full review of the best and most complete scientific research and data? And yet it appears the NEFMC has plans to do precisely the opposite.

Over the lengthy ten year OHA development process, the NEFMC’s technical team has attempted to compile the most critical information needed to select among about forty different alternatives for habitat protection and research areas into a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS is a legally required, multi-volume document that will include detailed characterizations and maps of the habitat found in New England’s ocean waters. More than just a paper exercise, the DEIS holds descriptions of the specific habitats that fish use at each life stage and measures the impacts that each type of fishing gear has on the ocean environment. The DEIS also holds an estimate of the economic effect of fishing a proposed habitat area versus the value of protecting it.

This important document will guide the Council’s initial decisions and inform the public about the different alternatives for protecting habitat. In order to ensure that the Council’s choices are based on the facts, it is essential that the analysis be completed before the Council selects its preferred habitat protection alternatives.

Unfortunately, and in spite of the best efforts of the technical staff, the current DEIS is lacking analysis of the environmental impacts of 14 separate habitat alternatives and an economic impacts analysis of 20 habitat and research alternatives. How can the NEFMC ensure that its decisions are appropriate and defensible when almost half of the alternatives are lacking fundamental environmental and economic impact information? How too can the public meaningfully comment on these alternatives when they are presented with only some of the facts?

Environmental impact studies are designed to help make good decisions before the use of the American public’s natural resources, not to justify decisions after they are made. The solution here is simple. The NEFMC meets again in January and this process of selecting preferred alternatives can be dealt with then. The fate of New England’s best ocean habitat deserves a thorough approach and should avoid the risk of premature, ill-informed decisions.

A juvenile black sea bass off the north shore of Massachusetts. Photo by Alex Shure, who says he has seen increasing numbers of black sea bass in the past few years.
A juvenile black sea bass off the north shore of Massachusetts. Photo by Alex Shure, who says he has seen increasing numbers of black sea bass in the past few years.
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Cool Fish, Hot Water III – Black Sea Bass

Categories: Creature Features

Previous posts in our Cool Fish, Hot Water series have introduced two of the species that are moving into the Gulf of Maine as water temperatures rise: seahorses and longfin squid. While seahorses are still an occasional visitor, New England’s longfin squid fishery has taken off in response to squid’s increased abundance.

This time, we’ll focus on another species with commercial potential—black sea bass.

Black sea bass are instantly recognizable by their dark brownish or bluish color, and have a very unusual life history. Most black sea bass are female when they reach maturity, but as they grow to about a foot in length (2-5 years of age), they suddenly change sex and become male for the remainder of their lives.

While the life history may be unusual, the fish itself is pretty common – to the south anyway. Black sea bass have historically been found throughout the mid-Atlantic and south to the Florida Keys. The Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries says they “generally do not occur in the Gulf of Maine”, and the area around Cape Cod was once the northern edge of their range.

But that range seems to be shifting. As On the Water editor Kevin Blinkoff told the New Bedford Standard Times, “Cape Cod forms a barrier for a lot of fish. It’s been the northernmost limit for a lot of species. In recent years, though, there are fish such as black sea bass…that were thought of as a more southern New England fish that are appearing in Boston Harbor and along the North Shore.”

Black sea bass are now starting to appear north of Cape Cod, where they were once a rarity—and along the south edge of the Cape, they’re suddenly abundant.

This rapid change in the abundance of black sea bass has put strain on fisheries managers. Black sea bass are managed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which jointly set a quota for the fishery. 51% of the quota is allocated to recreational fishermen, while commercial fishermen get the other 49%. The commercial quota is divided up between the Atlantic states to manage independently.

Currently, the recreational catch limit is 2.26 million pounds and the commercial limit is 2.17 million pounds. Massachusetts gets 13% of this commercial quota. Over the past several years, Massachusetts has chosen to have two short seasons for black sea bass—one in the spring and one in the summer. That system worked well when sea bass weren’t as abundant, but as the fish became more plentiful in Massachusetts, regulators were having a hard time controlling the catch during the first season. There was little left to catch for summer fishermen, and the fishery was regularly exceeding its quota.

This year, Massachusetts regulators decided to eliminate the spring season entirely to better control the catch—a move that angered many fishermen, who say limiting the number of permits, not shortening the fishing season, is the best way to limit the harvest.

Now many fishermen are asking the ASMFC to address the bigger question: are black sea bass becoming more abundant everywhere, or are they moving north—and how should fisheries managers respond?

Regulators agree that figuring out the details of black sea bass distribution will require more research. An official with the ASMFC who oversees black sea bass recently told the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, “We are investigating different reasons for changes in the availability of the stock.”

Hopefully, fisheries scientists will soon determine whether more abundant sea bass in New England are a sign of recovery or redistribution. In the meantime, New England’s fishermen and divers can enjoy another new face in the Gulf of Maine.

OnaBoat!
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A Boatful of Thankful – Mantis shrimp, Greenland Sharks, and Kids who Love the Ocean

As we approach our national day of gratitude and binge eating, I wanted to say a big heartfelt “thank you” to my muses, the ocean and the people who geek out on it. Here, in no particular order, are just some of the things in and around the sea that I am truly thankful for, and that make the ocean beat the most interesting one on the planet.

 

  • Mantis shrimp: “One of the most creatively violent animals on the planet.” If you haven’t been introduced to these little guys, or to The Oatmeal cartoon about them - now is the time.

 

  • Greenland sharks or, as they are affectionately known, “Canada’s crocodile.” Slow, small-brained, and often blind from eyeball parasites – they still manage to eat large, fast mammals. In fact, one of them took Greenland sharking to a new level recently by taking on a huge hunk of moose meat in Newfoundland. It did not go well, but fortunately some folks were there to help the shark out of its jam when the moose got stuck.  So, I’m thankful for Greenland sharks and for Newfoundlanders cause DANG that is a uniquely Canadian and impressive feat – yanking a huge hunk of moose hide out of a beached shark. A tip of the hat to you all.

 

  • Squid, cuttlefish, octopi – masters of camouflage and the creatures that make me ponder what evolution has in store for humans. If these guys figure out how to take to land I’m not sure we stand much of a chance. I know other people are worried too – because our SciFi aliens often resemble cephalopods.

 

 

 

  • Cashes Ledge. There is a place in New England that looks like a NorCal giant kelp forest, full of all the best kinds of things in the sea (including wolffish). Help us protect it!

 

  • Surfing. If you surf, you know. If you don’t, I can’t explain it without sounding like a total, well, like this guy. Just go try it. And, while we’re on the subject of surfing:

 

  • Great white sharks. They keep us on our toes. (Literally – I would rather be riding a wave then dangling my shark-bait feet in the water off my board). They also inspire awe and wonder, and really funny memes.

 

 

  • My family. They let me tell all these fantastic tales around the dinner table, help me pull out the juiciest details, and give me ideas for stories I never thought of. My kids can now beat most grownups at “ocean trivia.” Proud mom.

 

 

Mahalo to you all!