Ecosystem Status Report for the Northeast Large Marine Ecosystem

11. Status Determinations

11.1. Overfishing

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fish stock status
Figure 11.1 All stock with known status
Figure 11.2 NEFMC stocks
Figure 11.3 MAFMC stocks
Figure 11.4 Joint NEFMC-MAFMC stocks

Exploited fish and shellfish populations are classified as overfished if their biomass is less than one half of their biomass at maximum sustainable yield. Overfishing is said to occur if the current estimated fishing mortality rate exceeds the rate that is estimated to result in maximum sustainable yield.

Currently a total of 9 NES stocks out of 32 recently assessed are classified as overfished (Figure 11.1).

These include Southern New England winter flounder, ocean pout, halibut, Gulf of Maine cod, Northern windowpane flounder, Cape Cod-Gulf of Maine yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, Georges Bank cod, and Georges Bank yellowtail (Figure 11.2).

In addition, overfishing is occurring for 6 species (Northern windowpane flounder, Cape Cod-Gulf of Maine yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, Georges Bank cod, Georges Bank yellowtail and Gulf of Maine haddock (Figure 11.2).

The greatest problem exists in the mixed species trawl fisheries where bycatch is a significant issue and fishing rates cannot be fully controlled on all parts of the species complex simultaneously.

Currently, no stocks managed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management council are classified as overfished (Figure 11.3) nor are any of the jointly managed species so classified (Figure 11.4).

11.2 Threatened or Endangered Species and Species of Concern

Special considerations are required for species that are threatened or endangered by human activities even when these species are not directly targeted by the fisheries. Legal mandates and authorities for protection of these species fall primarily under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other pieces of legislation including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service designates certain fish species as Species of Concern requiring special consideration in management. Similarly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife designates Bird Species of concern.

11.2.1. Marine Mammals
chart showing recovery factor for marine mammals on the NE US Continental Shelf Figure 11.5

Marine mammal species listed as endangered that occur in the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES LME) include the blue, humpback, North Atlantic right, fin, sei and sperm whales (Table 11.1, below) The status of the western North Atlantic right whale is of particular concern. This population is currently thought to number around 400 individuals. They are highly susceptible to both collisions with ships and entanglement in fixed fishing gear, resulting in serious injuries and deaths (see Section 10). Current efforts to reduce these risks include sighting surveys for whales during times when they are congregated, wide dissemination of whale locations to mariners, restrictions on the configurations of fixed gill net, lobster and other pot gear, deployment of disentanglement teams, and support for researchers working on new gear and sensing technologies that could further reduce these risks. Four species are designated under the Marine Mammal Protection Act has having Strategic Status or as being depleted and requiring special management consideration.

Table 11.1. Marine Mammals listed under the Endangered Species Act as Endangered or Threatened and species listed under Strategic Status by the National Marine Fisheries Service as requiring special management consideration.
Common Name Scientific Name Region Classification Status
North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis Western North Atlantic Endangered
Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae Gulf of Maine Endangered
Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus Western North Atlantic Endangered
Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis Nova Scotia Endangered
Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus Western North Atlantic Endangered
Sperm whale Kogia sp. North Atlantic Endangered
Pilot whale, long-finned Globicephala sp. Western North Atlantic Strategic Status
Harbor porpoise Phocoena phocoena Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy Strategic Status
Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus Western North Atlantic, coastal, northern migratory Strategic Status: depleted
Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus Western North Atlantic Strategic Status

The relative status of other marine mammal species found on the Northeast Continental Shelf is depicted in Figure 11.5 (D. Palka, NEFSC, personal communication). The plot shows the estimated recovery factor (Fr) for these species (Fr ranges from 0 to 1 with 1 indicating a complete recovery; the outer circle in the polar plot corresponds to a value of 1). Species within the inner most circle as classified as endangered. While many cetacean species are classified as low to moderate with respect to recovery, seals species have increased. Grey seals and harbor seals increased dramatically over the last several decades with potentially important implications. Seals prey on some fish species and in some areas, conflict has arisen over predation by seals on commercially important fish species.

11.2.2. Sea Turtles

Five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles can be found in the NES LME including green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and loggerhead turtles. The Endangered Species Act listing for each of these species is provided in Table 11.2 (below). Threats to sea turtles include disruption of nesting sites, incidental capture in fishing gear, and ship collisions. The latter two impacts are of concern for species occurring in the NES LME.

The distribution of many sea turtles follows well-defined oceanographic features, including fronts associated with the Gulf Stream. These fronts are also important habitat for large pelagic fishes, and there are consistent spatial patterns of incidental takes of sea turtles in the longline fishery off the edge of the shelf. These takes have been substantially reduced both through closures and development of modified hooks.

Table 11.2. Threats to sea turtles include disruption of nesting sites, incidental capture in fishing gear, and ship collisions. The latter two impacts are of concern for species occurring in the NES LME.
Common Name Scientific Name Region Classification Status
Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea Western North Atlantic Endangered
Kemp's Ridley Lepidochelys kempii Western North Atlantic Endangered
Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata Western North Atlantic Endangered
Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas Florida breeding colony Endangered
Loggerhead Caretta caretta Western North Atlantic Threatened

The distribution of many sea turtles follows well-defined oceanographic features, including fronts associated with the Gulf Stream. These fronts are also important habitat for large pelagic fishes, and there are consistent spatial patterns of incidental takes of sea turtles in the longline fishery off the edge of the shelf. These takes have been substantially reduced both through closures and development of modified hooks.

11.2.3. Seabirds

The National Marine Fisheries Service's marine stewardship role also includes responsibility for the protection of seabirds and other migratory birds. This responsibility is supported by both domestic and international directives to gain a better understanding of seabird bycatch and ways of reducing incidental takes of seabirds. Seabirds were historically hunted for food and for plumage and many species declined precipitously due to over-exploitation. By-catch in fishing operations and threats to nesting areas for some species are currently of greatest concern. The species with the largest number of takes are shearwaters and petrels followed by loons and gulls. The fisheries that were most responsible for these by-catches were bottom otter trawls and scallop dredges, followed by the drift gillnet and finally the midwater paired otter trawl. The red-throated loon (Gavia stellata), red-necked grebe (Podiceps grisegena), greater shearwater (Puffinus gravis), northern gannet (Morus bassanus), thick billed murre (Uria lomvia) , razorbill (Alca torda) , black guillemot (Cepphus grille) and the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula artica) have been identified as species at risk due to fisheries bycatch (Marie St. Martin, CUNY, personal communication).

Currently, three seabird species occurring at least seasonally in the region from New England to Cape Hatteras are listed as endangered: Bermuda Petrel, Roseate Tern, and Least Tern (Table 11.3, below). An additional 14 species are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Birds of Conservation Concern requiring special management consideration. Birds of Conservation Concern are species, subspecies, and populations of all migratory nongame birds that, without additional conservation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Table 11.3. Sea Birds listed under the Endangered Species Act as Endangered or Threatened and species listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Birds of Conservation Concern.
Common Name Scientific Name Region Classification Status
Bermuda petrel Pterodroma cahow Western North Atlantic Endangered
Roseate tern Sterna dougallii New England-Mid-Atlantic Endangered
Least Tern Sternula antillarum New England-Mid-Atlantic Threatened
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Greater Shearwater Puffinus gravis New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Red Knot (rufa ssp.) Calidris canutus New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Eastern) Calidris pusilla New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus New England-Mid-Atlantic FWS Birds of Conservation Concern
11.2.4. Fish

Currently, 6 stocks of fish are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered: Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine (endangered); Atlantic Sturgeon in the Gulf of Maine (threatened), and the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, and Carolina (all endangered); and shortnose sturgeon throughout its range (Table 11.4, below). An additional 12 species are listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as Species of Special Concern. Species of Concern are species which engender concern regarding status and threats, but for which insufficient information is available to indicate a need to list the species under the Endangered Species Act.. Species of concern" status does not carry any procedural protections under the ESA.

Of these Species of Concern, only Atlantic Halibut is also listed as overfished. The remaining species on this list are either not covered by the fishery management council system or MSY-based reference points are not available to make an overfished determination or if overfishing is occurring.

Table 11.4. Fish listed under the Endangered Species Act as Endangered or Threatened and species listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as Species of Concern.
Common Name Scientific Name Region Classification Status
Atlantic salmon Salmo salar Gulf of Maine Endangered
Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus Gulf of Maine Threatened
New York Bight Endangered
Chesapeake Bay Endangered
Carolina Endangered
Shortnose sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum Throughout range Endangered
Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus Atlantic - Newfoundland to North Carolina Species of Concern
Atlantic bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus Western Atlantic Species of Concern
Atlantic halibut Hippoglossus hippoglossus Atlantic - Labrador to southern New England Species of Concern
Atlantic wolffish Anarhichas lupus Atlantic - Georges Bank and western Gulf of Maine Species of Concern
Blueback herring Alosa aestivalis Atlantic - Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to St. John's River, FL Species of Concern
Cusk Brosme brosme Gulf of Maine Species of Concern
Dusky shark Carcharhinus obscurus Atlantic Species of Concern
Porbeagle shark Lamna nasus Atlantic - Newfoundland to NJ Species of Concern
Rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax Atlantic - Labrador to NJ Species of Concern
Sand tiger shark Carcharias taurus Atlantic Species of Concern
Thorny skate Amblyraja radiata Atlantic - West Greenland to NY Species of Concern
Warsaw grouper Epinephelus nigritus Atlantic - MA to Gulf of Mexico Species of Concern

11.3 Coastal Condition Status

Coastal Condition Reports

chart showing coastal condition reports for the US NE coast Figure 11.6

Periodic national assessments of the condition of coastal systems in United States have been made since 2001 (U.S. 2012; see also Houde et al, this volume). These reports represent an integrated evaluation drawing on sampling programs conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The assessments provide standardized scores by region for five major attributes including indices of (1) water quality, (2) sediment quality, (3) coastal habitat, (4) fish tissue contaminants, and (5) nutrients [dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and phosphorus (DIP) and chlorophyll a (Chl a). Based on standardized sampling programs and expert opinion, regional status for these indicators are given qualitative scores on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (good). These five indicators include information on water clarity; dissolved oxygen content; sediment contaminants, toxicity and total organic carbon content; benthic diversity; coastal wetland coverage; contaminant body burdens for selected fish and invertebrate species groups; and direct measurement of DIN, DIP, and Chl a. An overall regional score is given as the un-weighted average of the five index scores. The most recent Coastal Condition Report (2012) provides information on fishery status within LMEs in the United States and a compilation of advisory reports providing information on seafood health warnings, beach closures, and other source of information on coastal status.

The most recent overall coastal condition score for the NESLME was 2.6, substantially lower than the Pacific Coast score of 3.8 (Figure 11.6). Particularly low scores for the benthic and fish contaminant indices in the Northeast result in the markedly lower value in this region relative to the west coast. This difference is attributable to the marked disparity in population densities along the two coasts and the levels of industrial activity throughout both coasts. In both systems, an overall improvement in scores since the first assessment has been noted although some caution is necessary in interpreting these since some modifications in methodology have been introduced.

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(File Modified Dec. 12 2017)