Important changes came last week in the effort to bring cod back to New England waters.
The New England Fishery Management Council at its meeting in Plymouth established a protective zone for juvenile cod in the Great South Channel.
While it will take up to three years to come up with protective rules for that area, the decision sets aside a portion of open ocean where it is known that undersized fish need to be protected.
The area is huge: it includes 5,000 square miles, and extends from the waters east off Provincetown down off Nantucket and into Nantucket Shoals.
A number of Vineyard fishermen know these waters. For commercial fishermen, the area is still one of the most productive fishing areas for cod, sea scallops, flounders.
Recreational fishermen know these waters as prime fishing area for bluefin tuna and bluefish. The area is the entryway to Georges Bank.
The significance of this change won’t be felt by Vineyard fishermen for a while. Yet it is another step in the zoning of the ocean by scientists and fisheries managers working together to restore depleted stocks.
“This is about protecting critical habitat for the Atlantic cod which are in an extremely depleted condition,” said Priscilla Brooks of the Conservation Law Foundation.
“We are way behind the ball when it comes to protecting our oceans,” Ms. Brooks said. “We have protected the land for centuries. Teddy Roosevelt set aside millions of acres so long ago. But when you look across the Gulf of Maine and the surrounding New England waters we have no areas that are fully protected.”
“The designation is significant but the truth is we won’t really know until the council takes the next step and defines what those restrictions will be,” she said.
Cod were once the most prominent of fish in Cape and Vineyard waters. The fish were harvested south of the Vineyard in the winter as recently as a decade ago by Island hook-and-line fishermen. Yet those stocks now are gone.
Complaints about the zone already are coming from commercial fishermen in New Bedford, where most of the cod are landed.
Ms. Brooks said: “The commercial fishermen are worried that this is going to shut down additional fishing areas and that is understandable. But it is really apparent that in order to rebuild the species, like cod, you have to protect critical habitat areas.”
At last week’s meeting, the council members were in receipt of a 156-page document outlining the science and history of cod in southern New England waters. The authors of the document describe the area as shallow and with a stony bottom.
“The Great South Channel area is used by commercial fishermen and contains structurally complex gravel, cobble and boulder habitat, which supports a wide array of emergent epifauna that juvenile cod rely on for food and shelter from predation,” the document states.
“Gravel and cobble hard bottom habitat is highly susceptible to long-term damage by bottom-tending mobile gear,” the document continues.
Citing literature written as far back years, the report said: “Damage of habitat by mobile fishing gear significantly reduces its benefits for juvenile cod . . . . The end result is that conserving healthy hard bottom habitat is essential to improve cod recruitment. This is a vital step to complement the end of overfishing of cod which collectively will improve the likelihood of rebuilding over fished Atlantic cod stocks.”
The document is available online by visiting the council’s Web site at nefmc.org and clicking the council meeting documents.
Patricia Fiorelli, a staff member with the council, said: “The designation was based on input submitted by prominent New England ecologists, who serve on the council’s technical team. We used 20 years of data from the Northeast Fisheries Center in Woods Hole and the data was supplied by the School or Marine Scientific Technology at UMass Dartmouth.”
“We are doing this because cod is the stock that has been enormously difficult to rebuild. And it is because of those difficulties,” she said.
Ms. Fiorelli said rules are being drafted now that will be submitted to the council to consider for implementation.
New Marine Safety Technology
The U.S. Coast Guard have new equipment on their Falcon jet flying out of Air Station Cape Cod that will speed up their efforts to find troubled mariners at sea. Beginning this month, Coast Guardsmen aboard a jet will be able to pinpoint with significant accuracy any Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon signal (also known as an EPIRB) coming from a distressed swimmer or sinking boat.
The beacon is a small radio transmitter that operates similarly to a GPS device. All offshore commercial boats are required to have one and most recreational boats have them. They are usually affixed to the side of a vessel, so that should the boat sink, it will float to the surface and start transmitting information to an overhead satellite, or nearby aircraft of boat. The 406 emergency beacon is the most recent version and now the standard.
“The new system, called the DF430 system is an upgrade to our aircraft’s search and rescue ability. The system allows us to track 406 [emergency beacons],” said Michael Lachowicz, a pilot who flies the Coast Guard jet.
“If a 406 [emergency beacon] is going off in the vicinity of Edgartown, we should be able to track the signal to the position of the distressed vessel,” he said.
“The system is only installed on one HU25 in the Coast Guard. We still have three aircraft that do not have it,” he said. Their ability to track the signal is less precise.
Comparing the technology that was available between the old and the new systems is like comparing the Ford Pinto to the Space Shuttle, according to Joseph Deer, a lieutenant commander with the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C.
Many advancements have come through global positioning system devices in the automobile. These advances out in the water which helps the Coast Guard do its job, Mr. Deer said.
The new technology is capable of positioning a signal from 72 miles away. In the case of the Falcon jet search, they’ll know precisely where the beacon is coming from.
“This new system saves us valuable response time, allowing us to receive more accurate guidance,” said Adam Young of Air Station Cape Cod. It should take most of the search out of search and rescue for most emergency beacon cases.
The new radio beacon technology will continue to improve quickly as more aircraft and vessels get the newer equipment.