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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

New website: Georges Bank research demonstrates recovery of fish stocks, habitat in areas closed to bottom fishing

Media Contact: Monica Allard Cox, 401-874-6937

NARRAGANSETT -- May 3, 2005 -- Georges Bank is one of the most biologically productive marine areas on the eastern seaboard, supporting a large, lucrative fishery.

However, by the early 1990s, several of the areaís commercially important fish stocks were showing signs of decline, with overfishing and the degradation of essential fish habitat (EFH) among the proposed explanations. Much of the damage to EFH has been linked to bottom fishing using otter trawls and scallop dredges. To foster fish stock recovery, approximately 25 percent of the bank was closed to bottom fishing in 1994.

To better understand how bottom fishing impacts benthic (sea bottom) organisms, researchers from the University of Rhode Islandís Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) and the U.S. Geological Survey, led by Jeremy Collie, GSO oceanography professor, set out in 1994 to survey the benthic community of Georges Bank. They studied the habitat straddling the boundary between the U.S. and Canadian Exclusive Economic Zones that serves as an important nursery for juvenile cod and haddock. Data from this project have revealed significant differences between disturbed and undisturbed sites in terms of abundance, biomass, species diversity, and benthic community structure.

Initial results of studies examining closed areas have revealed several promising signs of recovery, including increased spawning stock biomass of cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder. Even more dramatically, sea scallop biomass has increased 14-fold in unfished areas. The designation of the Georges Bank closed areas has also aided species that provide food and habitat for commercially important fishes.

Funding for this research was provided by the Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program. For information, visit: http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/research/georges_bank/.

Sea Grant is a nationwide program that promotes the conservation and sustainable development of marine resources for the public benefit.