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1. Introduction
2. Habitat Characterization of the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem
3. Fishing Gear and Practices Used in the Northeast Region
4. Geographic Distribution of Fishing Activity by Gear Type
5. Review of Literature on Fishing Gear Effects
6. Vulnerability of Essential Fish Habitat to Bottom-Tending Fishing Gears
7. References Cited
List of Acronyms

NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-181

Characterization of the Fishing Practices and Marine Benthic Ecosystems of the Northeast U.S. Shelf, and an Evaluation of the Potential Effects of Fishing on Essential Fish Habitat

by David Stevenson1, Louis Chiarella1, Dianne Stephan1, Robert Reid2, Kurt Wilhelm1, John McCarthy2, and Michael Pentony1
1National Marine Fisheries Serv., 1 Blackburn Dr., Gloucester, MA 01930
2National Marine Fisheries Serv., 74 Magruder Rd., Highlands, NJ 07732

Web version posted March 16, 2006

Citation: Stevenson D, Chiarella L, Stephan D, Reid R, Wilhelm K, McCarthy J, Pentony M. Characterization of the fishing practices and marine benthic ecosystems of the northeast US shelf, and an evaluation of the potential effects of fishing on essential habitat. NOAA Tech Memo NMFS NE 181; 179 p.

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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This document was conceived in 2001 by the Northeast Region Essential Fish Habitat Steering Committee. At that time, committee members were Louis Chiarella and Dianne Stephan (NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northeast Regional Office, Gloucester, MA), Tom Hoff (Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Dover, DE), Robert Reid (Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), Highlands, NJ), Michael Pentony (New England Fishery Management Council, Newburyport, MA), and Carrie Selberg (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission). An early draft that included habitat characterization information, the spatial distribution of fishing activity by gear type, and a summary of relevant gear-effects studies, was prepared to assist a panel of academic and fishing industry experts that met in October 2001 to assess the habitat impacts of commercial fishing gear in the region. Following the workshop, these chapters were revised and updated, and new chapters describing fishing gear and practices and assessing the vulnerability of habitats utilized by federally managed fish and invertebrate species to fishing were added.

Seven authors collaborated in the preparation of this document. Louis Chiarella prepared the original gear descriptions, relying partially on information compiled by Michael Pentony. Additional information was later added to this section by David Stevenson. Dianne Stephan prepared the habitat characterization chapter, in collaboration with Robert Reid and David Stevenson. David Stevenson prepared the gear distribution maps and summaries, using data provided by Kurt Wilhelm, and summarized the relevant gear-effects literature. Korie Johnson (NOAA Fisheries Service’s Office of Habitat Conservation, Silver Spring, MD) assisted with the literature review. Dianne Stephan, Louis Chiarella, Robert Reid, and David Stevenson collaborated on the habitat vulnerability evaluations. John McCarthy, a contractor at the Howard Laboratory (Highlands, NJ), assisted with text formatting and the preparation of tables and figures. Meredith Lock, also a contractor at the Howard Laboratory, helped with literature review and document assembly. Vince Guida (NEFSC, Highlands, NJ) provided some habitat characterization information. Thomas Noji (NEFSC, Highlands, NJ), David Mountain (NEFSC, Woods Hole, MA), and Peter Colosi (Northeast Regional Office, Gloucester, MA) commented on an early draft. David Packer (NEFSC, Highlands, NJ) and Jon Gibson (NEFSC, Woods Hole, MA) edited the document.


This document was developed to provide assistance in meeting the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) for the NOAA Fisheries Service's Northeast Region (hereafter just "Northeast Region" or "the region") which ranges from Maine to North Carolina. The 1996 amendments to the MSA require that federal fishery management plans (hereafter just "FMPs") minimize, to the extent practicable, adverse effects on EFH caused by fishing [MSA Section 303(a)(7)]. Pursuant to the EFH regulations [50 CFR 610.815(a)(2)], FMPs must include an evaluation of the potential adverse effects of fishing on EFH, including the effects of fishing activities regulated under other federal FMPs. The evaluation should consider the effects of each fishing activity on each type of habitat found within EFH, and provide conclusions as to whether and how each fishing activity adversely affects EFH. FMPs must describe each fishing activity, and must review and discuss all available and relevant information such as information regarding the intensity, extent, and frequency of any adverse effect on EFH, the type of habitat within EFH that may be adversely affected, and the habitat functions that may be disturbed. The evaluation should also consider the cumulative effects of multiple fishing activities on EFH. Additionally, FMPs must identify any fishing activities that are not managed under the MSA that may adversely affect EFH. Such activities may include fishing managed by state agencies or other authorities. However, regional fishery management councils (hereafter just "councils") are not required to take action to minimize adverse effects from non-MSA fishing activities. In completing this evaluation, councils are expected to use the best scientific information available, as well as other appropriate information sources.

This document emphasizes those fishing gears directly managed by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC). Much of the information included in earlier drafts of this document was incorporated into recent environmental impact statements and amendments to NEFMC FMPs for Atlantic sea scallops, groundfish, and monkfish (goosefish) (NEFMC 2003a,b, 2004), and into an environmental impact statement that evaluated the effects of gears used in the Atlantic herring fishery on EFH (NOAA/NMFS 2005). The information in this document relates strictly to the direct physical and biological effects of fishing on benthic habitat; it does not include resource population effects or ecosystem-level effects that are caused by the removal of targeted species or bycatch.

The information used in this document includes descriptions of benthic habitats and species assemblages (fish and invertebrates) in four subregions of the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem, descriptions of 37 gear types used in state and federal waters in the region, and the extent and distribution of fishing activity for the major commercial fishing gears used in the region during 1995-2001. In addition, this document summarizes the results of 73 scientific studies that form the basis for understanding the effects of fishing on benthic marine habitats in the region, and evaluates the vulnerability of benthic EFH to fishing for 47 species of federally managed fish and invertebrate species in the region. Conclusions reached by a panel of experts that met in October 2001 for the purpose of evaluating habitat effects in the Northeast Region (NREFHSC 2002) were also incorporated. A preliminary draft of this document was distributed to the workshop panelists to assist them in conducting their evaluation.

to Part 2. Habitat Characterization of the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem


= Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
= exclusive economic zone
= essential fish habitat
= fishery management plan
= fishing vessel trip report
= geographical information system
= Gulf of Maine
= heavily fished
= lightly fished
= Mid-Atlantic Bight
= Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
= Maine Bottom Water
= Maine Intermediate Water
= Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
= Maine Surface Water
= New England Fishery Management Council
= (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service
= (U.S. Department of Commerce) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
= pounds per square inch (lb/in2)
= 10-minute square (of latitude or longitude) (10N square)
= unfished
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