February 27, 2013

Recent scientific surveys of the fish populations off the New England coast have found them at or near the lowest levels ever recorded. On top of that, there is a new measure before NOAA that would encourage renewed bottom trawling and dredging in the region. A total of more than 5,000 sq. miles of seafloor—roughly equal to the size of Connecticut—is at risk of serious ecological setback.

After populations collapsed in the early 1990s, "groundfish closed areas" were set up to protect juvenile fish, spawning areas, and seafloor habitat. These sections of seabed were set aside to protect cod, haddock, flounder, and other important fish. Now, under pressure from the fishing industry, the New England Fishery Management Council has voted to let bottom trawling and dredging return to more than half of these areas. Federal fisheries officials at NOAA are now considering the council’s measure.

Decades of recovery would be rapidly erased if the measure is approved.

Cod and other species of these famous fisheries are still struggling to recover from decades of past overfishing and habitat damage from bottom trawlers. They also face warming waters due to climate change. Some observers fear that New England is perilously close to seeing its most famous fishery plunge into commercial extinction—just as happened in Canadian waters to the north in the 1990s. That’s why it is critically important for federal fisheries regulators at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to resist pressure for shortsighted proposals that will only add to the problem in the long run.

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