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70,000 Citizens, 100 Scientists Want New England’s Waters Protected

More than a hundred prominent scientists are urging federal officials to prevent the return of damaging, bottom trawl fishing to waters that have protected fish habitat and spawning areas in New England for nearly two decades.

Some five thousand square miles of protected seabed—an area equal to the size of Connecticut—could be at risk under the proposal that officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service are now considering. The scientists warn that such a move would likely “damage the marine ecosystem upon which all of our fisheries and other sectors in the coastal economy totally depend.”

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These closed areas were put in place following the collapse of fish populations in the 1990s and protect juvenile fish, spawning areas and seafloor habitat. They also provide benefits to other species, including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and harbor porpoises.

Right whales in closed areas map

Now, in response to recent low catch levels and pressure from the operators of the largest, bottom trawling boats, fishery managers want to open more than half of these sheltered zones to commercial fishing. But many of these fish are still recovering from the lingering effects of decades of overfishingand habitat damage. Some cod stocks, for example, are at or near the lowest levels ever recorded. These species now also face new challenges from climate change, which makes protecting habitat even more important if fish are to adapt to warming waters and acidifying oceans.

The scientists write that ending these protections would mean “the habitat value of these areas for managed species will be degraded rapidly…and what progress has been made in New England will be set back through new fishing activity.”

Protection for habitat and spawning fish, the scientists continue, is “the only wise course of action in the face of dwindling stocks.” The letter cites past and recent science establishing the value of the closed areas and concludes that NOAA fisheries officials are, “On the precipice of a monumental decision…The risks associated with opening these areas without a proper analysis are exceedingly high.”

The scientists aren’t the only ones speaking up. More than 70 thousand people sent comments opposing the proposal.

Over 130 charter boat captains, small business owners, community leaders and conservationists wrote about the important role these protected areas play.

Organizations working to protect endangered whales told NOAA that the proposal increases the risk of entanglements with fishing gear, a serious threat to whales.

NOAA just got a long list of reasons to keep these closed areas intact.

[Reblogged from www.talkingfish.org]

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