Sunset over Cashes Ledge
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Stop the Empty Oceans Act!

Categories: Action Alert

Take action for New England’s oceans and tell Congress to reject The Empty Oceans Act!

U.S. Representative Doc Hastings, the Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has drafted a bill to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the main Federal law that protects our ocean and coasts from overfishing. This proposed legislation is so bad that it’s been deemed the “Empty Oceans Act.”

The “Empty Oceans Act” threatens to bring us back to the disastrous overfishing policies of the past. If enacted into law it would eliminate important environmental protections and allow an unsustainable rate of fishing—even on the most vulnerable species.

Tell Congress not to weaken the Magnuson-Stevens Act. New England should be moving forward with modern science-based fisheries management, not going back to years of perpetual overfishing!

Simply put, the Hastings draft ignores the state of New England’s fisheries and the need to move modern fishery management forward. Instead of recognizing the success of the MSA over time and recent improvements to the law to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fish populations, the Hastings draft bill drags fisheries management back into the dark ages with a handful of attention grabbing measures which, if enacted, would take modern fisheries management to a permanent state of overfishing.

Hastings’ Empty Oceans Act proposes to:

  • Allow overfishing to continue by delaying the beginning of rebuilding measures for as long as seven years. Once rebuilding measures for one targeted species finally starts they could extend for decades with no meaningful deadline for completion.
  • Allow fishery management councils to outright ignore recommendations from their own science and statistical committees in setting catch limits.
  • Exempt fisheries management from meaningful environmental review by undercutting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its provisions for environmental impact review of federal management as well as the possibility for the involvement of citizens and other stakeholder groups.
  • Allow commercially driven fishery management councils to have control over the recovery of threatened and endangered ocean wildlife such as sea turtles.
  • Undercut other bedrock conservation laws such as the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, as well as prohibit taxpayer-funded fisheries data from being used for other purposes, such as New England’s regional ocean planning effort that has been underway for several years.

 

Help CLF halt this disastrous scheme to take healthy fish populations and the environment out of fisheries management!

 

lobsterwhalen
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Maine’s Most Lucrative Fishery Threatened by Pesticides?

Categories: Creature Features

Last month, Maine legislator Walter Kumiega introduced a bill that would ban the use of two pesticides, methoprene and resmethrin, in any body of water or area in the state that drains into the Gulf of Maine. We’re all familiar with some of the negative consequences of certain pesticides—from DDT’s effect on birds described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to the more recent concerns about some chemicals’ role in crashing honeybee populations. But Kumiega’s bill is unusual in that it seeks to protect a marine species, not a terrestrial one—lobsters.

Lobsters are by far Maine’s most valuable fishery. In 2012, the state landed 126.6 million pounds of lobster with a value of over $340 million, and around 80% of the state’s fishing revenues currently come from these tasty crustaceans. This heavy reliance on one species means that Maine’s fisheries are very vulnerable to any natural or human change that might harm the lobster population.

A crash in the currently abundant lobster population is a very real possibility, as fishermen in Long Island Sound know well. Connecticut and New York once had booming lobster fisheries. In 1998, for example, Connecticut landed over 3.7 million pounds of lobster, while New York landed nearly 7.9 million pounds. But that fishery collapsed rapidly over the past 15 years. In 2012, Connecticut caught just 241,000 pounds of lobster, and New York caught just 270,000 pounds.

This precipitous crash in the lobster fishery has been linked to two factors. First, climate change has led to warmer water temperatures in Long Island Sound. The area was already the southern edge of lobsters’ range, and areas that were once hospitable to lobsters quickly became too warm. A Massachusetts state biologist recently told a group of fishermen that he doubted lobsters would recover in waters south of Cape Cod any time soon, because water temperatures are simply so high that lobsters have moved north or farther offshore to lay their eggs. In addition, higher water temperatures may make conditions more favorable for the spread of a shell disease that makes lobsters unfit for sale.

Water temperatures aren’t the only thing linked to the lobster crash, however. During the 1990s, two pesticides were sprayed extensively in the New York area to control the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. These chemicals were later identified in the tissues of dead lobsters in Long Island Sound. Despite the claims of government scientists that there is not enough evidence to link pesticides to the lobster decline, in the mid-2000s, three chemical companies reached multimillion-dollar settlements with lobstermen for their role in the die-off. Pesticides have also been blamed in a smaller die-off in New Brunswick’s Passamaquoddy Bay.

This takes us back to Maine’s proposed bill. Methoprene and resmethrin are apparently used sparingly in Maine and have not been used by state agencies, but Kumiega says the legislation is a preventative measure to protect the state’s valuable lobster fishery. Some, however, are concerned the bill does not go far enough and might provide a “false sense of security.” The executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association told the Portland Press-Herald that lobstermen worry banning two pesticides could limit research into other environmental changes and pollutants that could harm the lobster fishery. They want a more thorough analysis of which pesticides might harm lobsters, and the state seems to agree—the Department of Marine Resources is considering a sediment survey of Casco Bay to assess the presence of pollutants.

With such a large portion of Maine’s fishing revenues dependent on lobsters, more research into what could deplete their population–whether it’s fishing pressure, climate change, or pesticides—will be critically important. Connecticut and New York have already lost a once-thriving fishery, and Maine’s marine ecosystems and coastal communities can’t afford to do the same.

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Announcing Our January Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Congratulations to Jay Arbelo, our winning photographer for January’s contest! Jay captured this stunning shot of a rocky, icy shoreline at Rye Beach in Rye, NH.

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!

Northern anemones are one of the many kinds of invertebrates found at Cashes Ledge.
Northern anemones are one of the many kinds of invertebrates found at Cashes Ledge.
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It Takes a Village: Life on the Bottom at Cashes Ledge

If you’re reading this post, you are probably a vertebrate. Those of us with spines and bones may find it hard to empathize with invertebrates (animals without spines), with their radically alien ways of being, frequent radial symmetry and general facelessness! But in many ways, invertebrates are the heart of ocean ecosystems, so for those of us interested in the fascinating universe of the sea it is important to understand them. And there are few better places to study invertebrate communities than one unique and now threatened special area in the Gulf of Maine.

Off the New England coast, about 80 miles due east from Cape Ann, lies Cashes Ledge: an undersea mountain range that is one of the most dynamic, and ecologically productive areas in the entire North Atlantic. Although only the most intrepid divers have seen Cashes Ledge with their own eyes, you can imagine the undersea terrain by thinking of mountains that you already know: as a multifaceted terrain of rocky peaks, banks, and channels, with a valley floor of mud, gravel, sand, boulders, and rock. This terrain supports a vibrant bottom-dwelling community of bright orange, red, and yellow sponges, sea stars, brittle and feather stars, sea squirts, sea pens, anemones, tube worms, northern shrimp, horse mussels, and sea mosses, technically known as “bryozoans.”

This colorful community is one of Cashes Ledge’s treasures, and one that is ever more in peril.

Invertebrates of Cashes Ledge. Photo by Jon Witman.

Invertebrates of Cashes Ledge. Photo by Jon Witman.

 

The variety of terrain at Cashes Ledge makes it an ideal living laboratory for studying the structure of the vibrant communities that grow along its slopes and hills. The enhanced water flow created by the topographic “ramp” of the Ledge encourages a high growth rate of invertebrates, both mobile and encrusted to their home rocks—varieties of sponges that are as yet uncatalogued, including a rare species of blue sponge that has only ever been sighted in the rock wall communities of Cashes Ledge.

Unique communities form at each depth, creating a complex and rich diversity of species. Metridum anemones gather at the tops of the ridges, sheltered by waving groves of laminarian kelp. Large urticina anemones and orange sea stars flourish in the mid-depth areas, as well as brachiopods, crinoids, ascidians, and yellow mounding sponges the size of footballs. The soft bottom is home to tube worms, pink northern shrimp, and thickets of mud anemones. Ammen Rock, the highest peak in the Cashes Ledge range, hosts large, sensitive beds of horse mussels: a “foundation species” because they provide habitat and refuge for other species.

Phakelia sponge and brittle stars. Photo by Jon Witman.

Phakelia sponge and brittle stars. Photo by Jon Witman.

The biological richness which makes Cashes Ledge so compelling for scientists to study has also drawn the attention of industrial fishing interests, which are currently lobbying to remove long-standing protections for Cashes Ledge.  Allowing bottom trawling at Cashes Ledge would rapidly deplete the remaining populations of large cod and other groundfish who are the most prolific spawners. The kelp forests, slopes and rocky terrain serve as excellent habitat and the best chance for restoring Gulf of Maine cod populations, which are now at historically low numbers.

Cod and anemones. Photo by Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Cod and invertebrates. Photo by Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

New bottom trawling would be bad news for bottom-dwelling sea life at Cashes Ledge, because a number of the invertebrate species that grow there are particularly vulnerable to human disturbance. These invertebrates move slowly (if at all), and often have specialized reproductive cycles. If their habitat is harmed and breeding adults removed, species could take many years to recover, even longer for rarer species. Scientific estimates predict that the large, solitary sea anemone Urticina crassicornis would take 268 years to return to the community if it were removed by fishing gear.

Trawling Cashes Ledge could deplete or endanger many species that we do not yet fully know about. Cashes Ledge should be left intact as a resource for scientists, as well as a replenishment zone whose presence will sustain a recovering ocean ecosystem that will be of benefit to fishermen in the future. Trawling at Cashes Ledge is a short-term economic gamble that would cause long-term economic and environmental damage.

Cashes Ledge is a “wild offshore place that helps us understand how marine ecosystems tick,” says marine ecologist Jon Witman, who has been studying it for 35 years. “Cashes Ledge provides an opportunity to understand why biodiversity matters in an ecological sense. Unfortunately,” he continues, “we are losing marine biodiversity in the world’s oceans faster than we can study it.”

As an offshore haven far from the polluted waters of coastal habitats, Cashes Ledge warrants full and permanent protection to ensure that its intricately connected habitats and unique ecosystem can continue to serve as a reservoir of diverse ocean wildlife, a replenishment zone for sustainable fish stocks, and an open ocean laboratory for scientific research. Please add your voice to those calling for the protection of Cashes Ledge.

Laura Marjorie Miller writes about travel, ocean conservation, Yoga, magic, myth, fairy tales, photography, and other soulful subjects. She is a regular columnist at elephantjournal, a writer at UMass Amherst, and a travel correspondent for the Boston Globe. Her writing has appeared in Parabola and she has features forthcoming in Yankee Magazine and Seven Miles of Steel Thistles. She is based in Massachusetts, where she lives with a cat named Huck.

Photo contest winner
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Announcing Our December Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Congratulations to Andrew Rys, our winning photographer for December’s contest! Andrew took this beautiful photo in Little Compton, Rhode Island. We love how it captures the swirling surf and the serenity of the beach in the early morning.

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!