After nearly a ten-year struggle, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) this week voted to designate the Great South Channel as a Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC). The channel is located southeast of Cape Cod and provides habitat that is essential to the survival of juvenile cod populations. Officially designating this area as a HAPC under federal fisheries law will allow for special consideration in the coming years to conserve sensitive and rare marine habitat in the area.
"We all know, fishermen and managers alike, that the Great South Channel is a unique area for the New England Marine ecosystem," said John Williamson, Fish Conservation Program Manager at the Ocean Conservancy in Portland, Maine." Giving this area special attention is a necessary building block for healthy oceans."
Juvenile cod have suffered from decades of overfishing and their populations continually fail to recover despite strict catch limits in recent years. Luckily, the Council accepted the advice their scientific advisory panel, the Plan Development Team, which recommended this area receive special treatment as an HAPC in August. The team noted that this location represented one of three ‘cluster areas' for juvenile cod in the region.
"Scientific data shows a strong link between the extremely rare hard bottom habitat of the Great South Channel and the survival of juvenile cod," said Gib Brogan, Campaign Projects Manager at Oceana. "If we don't protect known nurseries from destructive fishing gear now, the future of the groundfish fishery will be at risk."
The NEFMC will immediately begin to develop in-the-water management measures to conserve the important habitats of the Great South Channel HAPC and other habitat areas of particular concern that were chosen this June.
"This proactive step by the Council is an important part of the foundation of habitat management in the region,' said Sally McGee, of Environmental Defense and chair of the Council's habitat and ecosystems committee. "We hope that highlighting this important marine habitat will help the Council develop workable ways to enhance the recovery of depleted cod and lead to more robust oceans for everyone."
In-the-water management measures are expected to be in place by 2009.