Monday, September 14, 2009

Human impacts and environmental factors are changing the northwest Atlantic ecosystem

Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA): Fish in U.S. waters from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian border have moved away from their traditional, long-time habitats over the past four decades because of fundamental changes in the regional ecosystem, according to a new report by NOAA researchers.

The 2009 Ecosystem Status Report also points out the need to manage the waters off the northeastern coast of the United States as a whole rather than as a series of separate and unrelated components.

Known as the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES LME), the ecosystem spans approximately 100,000 square miles and supports some of the highest revenue-generating fisheries in the nation. During the past 40 years, the ecosystem has experienced extensive fishing by domestic and foreign fleets, changes in ocean water temperatures due to climate change, and pressures from increasing human populations along the coast.

Michael Fogarty, who heads the Ecosystem Assessment Program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) of NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Woods Hole, Mass., says his team’s report highlights the need to understand natural and human-related changes in this region and to develop effective management and mitigation strategies.

“There are many pressures on the ecosystem including fishing, pollution, habitat loss from coastal development, and impacts on marine life from shipping and other uses of the ocean,” Fogarty said. “In addition, changing climate conditions are warming ocean waters, changing ocean chemistry and circulation patterns, and altering atmospheric systems. These changes have, in turn, been linked to changes in the distribution and abundance of fish species in the region and their major sources of food.”…

Catching monkfish (credit: NOAA Fisheries)