Monthly Archives: August 2009

Deep Water Corals “News Cruise”

Before this year is out, four exciting cruises will take place to explore the deepwater coral reefs of the Southeast.  In fact, scientists are off Florida right now with deep-diving submersibles working to understand the newly discovered reefs that will be protected by the South Atlantic Council in September

Among the neatest science coming during these cruises is the recovery of a “benthic lander” that has been studying deepwater corals in the Gulf for the past year, and then its redeployment off North Carolina this December.  It is fascinating that it has taken 40 years — nearly exactly! — to achieve in the deep sea, right in our backyard, what American scientists did on the moon with a lunar lander, way back in 1969! 

If you liked National Geographic’s “Drain the Ocean,” you’ll love the reports from these cruises, hot off the ship.

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EDF Senior Scientist Successfully Works with South Atlantic Council to Safeguard Corals

EDF Senior Scientist, Doug RaderSince 1998, EDF Senior Scientist Doug Rader has worked with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, marine scientists and fishermen to protect the ancient and fragile reefs against both fishing and non-fishing threats.  Working together, they designed a plan that safeguards the corals and also allows traditional fisheries in the reefs. 

A first for fishery councils in the United States, the plan strikes a novel and unique balance between achieving protection of critical habitat, while allowing fishermen to continue to have access to traditional fishing grounds with gears that do minimal damage.  The council is expected to give final approval to the entire habitat area in September.

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Catch Share Options Include Community Fishing Associations

Diane Regas, Associate Vice President - EDF Oceans ProgramCommunity Fishing Associations are a good idea.  It might surprise you to hear that from Environmental Defense Fund.  Sara Randall and Nate Grader got our position wrong, but their exploration of Community Fishing Associations (CFAs) got a lot of other things right, and those other things are worth paying attention to.  Randall and Grader take a look at what CFAs might accomplish, and some of the structural and regulatory challenges that face these new systems.  They conclude that CFAs can provide a way to promote sustainable fishing. We agree.

Community Fishing Associations–if designed well–can successfully address fishing community concerns about maintaining traditional access for fishermen by “anchoring” quota in a community.  We see CFAs as a prime example of the flexibility and creativity allowed under catch share systems to address not only conservation and economics, but a wide range of social values.  That is why EDF is working with fishermen, scientists and managers in New England to implement “sectors,” a form of catch shares based on cooperatives, and we are working to advance CFAs in New England and the West Coast.

Catch shares are not “one-size-fits all.” There are several viable options to designing catch shares, ranging from IFQs, to community-held quotas like CFAs, to area-based management approaches (also known as Territorial Use Rights Fisheries or TURFs).  We would call all of these options–properly designed–“catch shares.” 

Whatever you call them, all of these approaches need a scientifically-determined catch limit, allocations to accountable entities (e.g., individuals, cooperatives, communities), and monitoring and enforcement to ensure fishermen are staying under their allocations.  Contrary to Randall and Grader’s assertion that we just need to get the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) right to end over-fishing, fisheries need TACs set right and a well-working mechanism to make sure that the TAC is actually met.  TACs alone have a relatively poor track record in fisheries management. 

We want fisheries management to work; that’s why we have urged NOAA to create a level playing field for various fishery management alternatives, and then make sure every plan measures up.  A level playing field means holding all fisheries management plans accountable for getting results:  improved conservation, improved science and better economic conditions.  It’s the results that matter!

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Ancient Deepwater Coral Ecosystems of the Southeast

Deep water corals - South Atlantic U.S.; Photo by Dr. Steve RossAlthough corals from deepwaters of the U.S. Southeast were first reported way back in the 1880’s, more than a century passed before research revealed the breathtaking scale of the deepwater coral reef ecosystems in the region.  Dr. Steve Ross (UNC-Wilmington) and Dr. John Reed (Harbor Branch) have actively partnered with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council over the past decade to ensure that cutting-edge science is translated into strong protection for these world class reefs.

These deepwater reef ecosystems include a dizzying array of mounds and pinnacles covering nearly 25,000 square miles from North Carolina to Florida at depths of 1,000 feet and greater on the Blake Plateau and similar geologic contexts, extending into waters managed by the Bahamas and probably Cuba as well. 

Deep water corals - South Atlantic; Photo by Dr. Steve RossThese reefs are home to tremendous biological diversity, including many species new to science, and including species of potential economic value, both for fishing and for pharmaceutical prospecting.  Individual colonies may be thousands of years old, and some mounds likely exceed a million years in age, creating a record of changing conditions in the deep ocean.

The Council’s Habitat and Environmental Protection Advisory Panel (which I chair) and Coral Advisory Panel have worked tirelessly with scientists, the Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and fishermen to create proposed protection zones called “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern,” that will protect these treasures against fishing and other threats.  In particular, EDF negotiated “allowable gear zones,” where traditional fisheries for deepwater animals (golden crab and royal red shrimp) would be allowed, away from vulnerable tall pinnacles.  The Council stands ready to finalize these protection zones at its next meeting in September.

Photos by Dr. Steve Ross

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Sage Words from an Old Timer

Julie Wormser, NE Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.As the New England groundfish fishery moves to “sector” management (fishing cooperative-based catch shares), it’s good to get the perspective of someone with nearly a half-century of fishing experience.  Frank Mirarchi, a fisherman out of Scituate, Massachusetts, describes the busts that repeatedly followed boom years.  I share Frank’s optimism that sector management–once all the details are worked through–will restore the natural abundance of fish in the Gulf of Maine.  This time, however, as long as sectors are well-designed and enforced, the boom years should keep going in perpetuity, moving us away from the crisis management that has marked the New England groundfish fishery for the last several decades.

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New Oyster Reef Yields Good Results in Chesapeake

Here’s something you don’t hear about every day: good news about the Chesapeake Bay.  The Washington Post is reporting that an artificial reef in a tributary is teeming with new life.  The reef is nothing more complex than a large pile of shells.  Historically reefs like that were so numerous they were a hazard for ships.  So many oysters lived in the Chesapeake that they filtered all the water in the bay every few days. 

The demise of the Chesapeake oyster came around the turn of the last century through a manic and violent harvest that reduced the population to just one percent of historic abundance in less than a century.  As many as 15 million oysters were harvested annually in the late 1800’s, compared to 100,000 or less today.

Scores of people died in the mad pursuit of oysters.  Maryland was forced to establish the Oyster Police to protect its oystermen against their counterparts from Virginia.  Violent conflicts between watermen from the two states became so common that this era is now known as the Oyster Wars.

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