Researchers carrying out an Atlantic Sea scallop survey. (Photo: smast.umassd.edu)
Sea floor survey findings may change fishery management
Thursday, October 28, 2010, 03:50 (GMT + 9)
Fishery managers may drastically reassess the measures now applied to regulate the fishing industry in Georges Bank thanks to a new study of the sea floor between Cape Cod in Massachusetts and Cape Sable Island in Nova Scotia.
The shallow waters of this submerged plateau contain nutrient-rich currents that serve as valuable feeding grounds for a cornucopia of marine species, reports Don Cuddy of South Coast Today.
Today, large areas have been closed - some permanently - to preserve fish habitat and stocks. However, the map employed to gauge the impact of fishing on the bank was put together using only 190 sample points from the entire area, which measures over 25,000 square miles.
"On average, that's 125 km between points, and some samples date back as far as the time when guys were throwing lead weights over the side," said Bradley P Harris, a research associate with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) who headed the exhaustive new study, South Coast Today reports.
"That did not provide an accurate picture of what's on the sea floor," he pointed out.
The study ran from New Bedford scallop vessels from 1996-2009 and was principally funded by fishers, who provided the boats, food, fuel and knowhow. The researchers used the same live underwater video technology that enabled the first inclusive appraisal of the sea scallop stock.
"This is superb work that's going to change the face of fishery management," said Dave Preble, chairman of New England Fishery Management Council's habitat committee. "This work will be the foundation of our ecosystem management plan, and it's finally going to get us out of this ridiculous single-species management that always seems to fail."
"We've tried to manage individual species as if they live by themselves. We've done that because we haven't had the means to not do it. Now we have something better," he noted.
Kevin DE Stokesbury, chairman of the SMAST's Department of Fisheries Oceanography who monitored the study, said the data symbolise an increase in the knowledge of the bank’s sea floor "by two orders of magnitude."
"The study will influence all of the fisheries management plans for New England," he declared.
Until now, the sediment distribution was based chiefly on speculation, Harris said.
"With the information from the survey, I can detail the most commonly occurring sediment, how coarse it is, how variable it is and what is the biggest type we see," Harris explained. "This has implications for where fish live, their abundance and their distribution."
The study showed that 62 per cent of the bank is made up of sand while gravel comprises the rest, continues Don Cuddy's report.
The New England Fishery Management Council's Habitat Plan Development Team (PDT) will review the survey data. Its impact will be far reaching, said Preble.
By Natalia Real