Mobile fishing gear and seafloor habitats
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
30 Jul 1997
- Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
- 42.35 -70.5
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH40 Cardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic through Sonosax Preamp into Sony TCD3
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
STELLWAGEN BANK NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY
Log DAT 7
dive #2 in prep -they are about ready to put the Phantom S-2 back in the water, the ROV
00:30 -ambi putting ROV back in water (some chatter in bg)
*1:04-good but talk in bg
*2:00 "Go ahead and get the hydraulics Rich and get the main engine engaged"
3 : 1 0 good ambi, lowering ROV
6:43 "ROV is on bottom"
6:55 "Rich, we will probably head south from this position" -"ok" (good, but sound of a computer printer in bg)
**8:02-8:55 VG ambi (suddenly sound is better)
8:38 "come up in the whale house!"
Chuck's notes: sounds from 2nd dive, recorded from starboard side, rap up ofcable cords -sound hear now are the hydraulic cords, side thrusters
9:16-9:37 side thrusters 2pm on the forward starboard side of the Abel Jay (name of the boat)
11:24 L W -I am Les Watling, a professor of oceanography at the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center. I am interested in bottom habitats in the Gulf of Maine, broadly speaking and I have become concerned in the last few years about the effect of mobile fishing gear on these bottom habitats and how this gear is actually altering the structure of those habitats
11 :52 TB -... when we talk about NMS -why are they important and are they in any way addressing or protecting the issues that you are concerned about?
12:02 L W -NMS I think are important bc they offer some protections to interesting or unusual or perhaps critical kinds of habitats in the United States in the oceans in the US. Most of the Sanctuaries that are around the country are in unusual kinds of habitats. That includes this one, which is located over a bank which is an old relic of the glacial past and has on it a significantly diverse array of life forms and that is true for most of the sanctuaries. The sanctuaries were set up with the idea of protecting these unusual habitats that were very diverse. And I think that what happened is that most of the Sanctuaries do offer protection from. . .. Most of the Sanctuaries do offer protection from the kinds of impacts that people were worried about when the Sanctuary was first started. And that is things like marine pollution, sea bed mining, petroleum exploration. They don't offer protection from resource exploitation, at least exploitation of the living resource. And that is fisheries. And most of the sanctuaries were set up allowing fishing to happen -
13 :37 TB -including this one where we are right now
LW -including this one -and in fact this one may be -exist bc with the promise of no regulation with fishing or no banning of fishing activities within the boundaries of this sanctuary than the opposition from the fishing community disappeared. This Sanctuary may not have been set up if there had to have been restriction on fishing activities.
14:05 TB -so what would you like to see happen. If you had your way in terms of setting policy to insure the health and the future of this particular Sanctuary.
14: 17 L W -well I would like to see at least part of this Sanctuary off limits to any resource taking and I can't say at the moment whether the whole sanctuary should be closed. It's true that this Sanctuary has in it representatives of all of the major habitats that exist in the Gulf of Maine and it wouldn't be a bad thing to have this Sanctuary completely closed to all resource exploitation. It would allow us to -us meaning the scientific community broadly -to investigate the patterns and processes that regulate the diversity in habitats like these. Right now there is no place in the Gulf of Maine that you can go and be certain that it has not been disturbed. And that would seem to me to be a very valuable component of a Sanctuary.
15: 16 TB -now what kind of reaction do you get from the people who depend on this part of the world to make a living, i.e. the fishing community when you raise these Issues.
15:28 LW -besides the fact that they think I am nuts! (laughter) and out to put them out of business -
TB -well, that is the question, there are legitimate fears and perhaps legitimate questions from these people that hey -this is a life style that has been around for generations, are you really proposing that you just stop?
15 :52 LW -this issue of lifestyle is an interesting one to me. Yes, this is the lifestyle that has been here for 200 or 300 years but this biotic community was here for 8000 years before people stepped into it. At least with --and I would say that people stepped into it at least with a capability of taking some of the resource 300 years ago. But 100 years ago or maybe 75 years ago they came into this community with the capacity to remove everything and I am not sure that that is a value that is worth preserving. In essence people are asking us to do when they say that they want to preserve this lifestyle that these fisherman have, that is a lifestyle of taking, taking, taking. And taking everything with increasing capability so -
16:54 TB -when we were coming out here on the boat you were talking to me about how there is a complete absence of any representation at the table in the sense from the scientific community. Can you talk a little bit about this -....... 17:20 are you satisfied with the process that permits you to come out here, take a look at the situation and feel comfortable with the fact that your concerns are going to be heard and actually result in the policy that you think should follow.
17:36 LW -no. (laughter) I don't think the concerns of anyone that is concerned with habitat preservation are going to be heard.
TB -why not?
L W -well, bc the management system is set up to basically worry about productivity of the resource. And in fact there was a mtg in MA a month or so ago. Where fishermen, scientists, well a few scientists -5 I think, all got up and gave their views about mobile fishing gear. And one of the arguments that we heard a lot was mobile fishing when used in some areas of the bottom enhances the productivity of the bottom. so why are we worried about it -why is it such a big deal? That is a serious question and but that is typical of the kinds of questions or the frame work in which the questions are asked. And that is that the questions are asked from a frame work totally of productivity. If it produces more fish it can't be bad. There's a thousand other species out here, none of whom are being represented in terms of their right to exist. And I guess the analogy of that I would have is something like a wheat field: it is very productive, but it is not very diverse. In fact to maintain its productivity efforts are strongly made to reduce the diversity. Right? To get rid of pests and microbes and whatever else is growing in the wheat. And if you look at most of these high productivity mono-cultural situations it takes a lot of energy to maintain them. And I think the same would be true in some of the fishing areas. You keep -you are spending fossil fuels basically to plow over the sea bottom to keep it in a succession state were it will produce a lot offish. And I am not sure if anyone has asked the question whether this is what we really want to do. And my perspective is one of
biodiversity. When I see areas like this that are plowed over repetitively I see a reduction in the biodiversity, and I don't see the biodiversity aspect of this question being represented in any management deliberations. That is what I mean by a seat at the table. Everyone who has a seat at the management table -if you look at the New England Fisheries management council are concerned with resource production they are not concerned with diversity at all.
20: 13 TB -let me ask you about 2 things and just tell me why this doesn't counter your concerns. I have been covering the fishing industries for the last few years in New England and there are efforts underway to get people to essentially permit these stocks of ground fish to recover. That is the first thing. We had the Rio conference not long ago where the president of this country talked about the importance of biodiversity. Aren't we making some progress? Or is that progress not represented here?
20:49 LW -well, biodiversity is being talked about I think that is the best way to say it. But, I don't see much action and I think that -well, let me take that statement back slightly -you do see action in fact in terrestrial environments. Some terrestrial environments. I mean there is an effort to preserve some old growth forest which we know has the level of biodiversity in a range of species that probably exist in that forest and nowhere else. And there is an effort to bring back tall grass prairie for the reasons. But there is no similar effort to maintain or to even understand levels of biodiversity in the sea. And I was part of a National Research Council study that a couple of years ago on a committee that wrote a book called Understanding Marine Biological Diversity. It was meant to be a research plan for the nation to get at some of the just basic fundamental questions about biological diversity in the oceans in US continental waters. And that report was nicely done up in a hard bound book and it has done nothing but sit. 2 years later not a word a breath of concern about implementing any part of that plan. And I think that is a good indicator of where marine biodiversity is beyond the horizon -below the horizon! It is not on anyone's radar screen.
22:29 TB -you have done a lot of careful study of the extent of bottom trawling and the effect -can you talk specifically about what happens to the bottom? ... can you talk about what happens to the bottom when one of these big trawlers go through here? And maybe relate it to what we were looking at earlier today on those video screens with the ROV.
23:00 LW -well basically what happens is the trawls .... well, let me gibe you a little history too. Until the earlier 1980s arter (?) trawls were used almost entirely on relatively smooth bottoms. And the reason was, bc of that foot rope -called the SWEEP in New England, might be called something else somewhere else, but that hovers near the bottom. w/in a few inches usually of the bottom -6 or 8 inches of the bottom. so if you are trying to drag that in areas where there are boulders that are 3 feet high then obviously you are going to run boulders into the net and it will be tough to pull it out from the water after a while or it will tear the net up. When I came here in 1987 with the submersible and we were diving around, it was -even though I wasn't really concerned about this issue at the time -one thing that was clear was that these rough bottom areas seem to be natural refuges from over fishing. And there were several of us on that cruise remarking on that issue that we were probably looking at areas that were restocking the fishery. This was so noticeable that (loud sound in bg -hard to hear Les)
24:35 -loud sound in room where there is the interview
25:08 -LW -so most of us recognized -we saw a lot of biota and a lot offish. Fish were always present in all of these dives. So we were sure that -and obviously in the mid 80s overfishing was the big issue, was becoming the issue. And so we were pretty sure that what we were seeing might be refuges for fish that might restock the population. In about 1985 fisherman invented roller gear. They started out actually by putting logs out along the foot row. And then they got the idea of taking tires from old -from the large things like skidders working in the Maine woods and cutting them into cookies -LOUD SOUND IN BG AGAIN -
26:01 LW (with loud sound in bg) they are probably changing direction with the ROV running the legs on a transect ....
26:21 L W -... they cut these tires up into cookies -flat disks, some of them 18 inches in diameter -LOUD SOUND AGAIN IN BG
*** VG 26:31-26:49 thrusters (for the ROV), side thrusters adjusting the angle of the ship to the ROV 27:06-27:14
27: 15 -radio chatter -
28: 16 what the cookies do is they essentially elevate the foot rope of the net and allow the net to in a sense roll across the bottom. and for small rocks the foot rope rolls right over the top of the small rocks and larger rocks get caught in this foot rope and we have seen video and there is plenty of evidence just on the bottom that large boulders that are say 3 feet in diameter or so will occasionally get caught by the foot rope with the cookies on it and get pushed along the bottom. eventually it gets caught with something and the rock rolls upward and over and all of the things that are on it then get smashed. And the net itself as it goes over the rocks is essentially like a sandpaper going over the bottom and it cuts stuff off from the bottom as well. So what you see in an area that has been trawled -well, there is one other effect as well: the net resuspends the fine sediment bc the net itself creates a lot of turbulence and that turbulence causes the fine rocks or fine sand and silt particles to be kicked back into the water ... the net creates turbulence and that turbulence resuspends the fine sand and silt particles. So you can tell an area where a trawl had been recently in particular. All of the fine sediment is removed from the surface of the rocks. Most of the colonial organisms are removed from the rocks and occasionally you will see rocks that have been turned up on end. We will have furrows in front of them or piles of sediment in front of them and furrows behind them. So you can tell visually quite readily where an area has been run over with one of these trawls. 30: 13
30: 14 TB -not as dramatic as clear cutting a forests but that kind of thing?
L W -well, it is dramatic to a train eye. Bc there are some things that you would expect to find there, to see there and now we also know however that things, certainly like sponges will undergo natural die-backs. So you have to be careful. Not all rocks w/o sponges are represented trawl environment. So what we have been doing is try to take an objective view, as objective as possible. We develop criteria that have nothing to do with biology. So that is why we are looking at things like resuspended silt, loss of this fine silt cover and you know over turned rocks and furrows behind rocks and things like that so that we can then go to an area and assess it in terms of these abiotic qualities and then take a look at the biotic characteristics. When you do that enough times you will obviously build up an understanding of what part of the biota is missing or what part of the biota that is not there is occurring along with these abiotic features and then we might be able to use biotic things that you could see in a ROV quite readily. You could drive along and say ah ha there isn't this and there isn't that. There are also some other things. If an area gets trawled a few times during one season but then isn't trawled for a couple of years then obviously you have created all of this bare space and animals are going to recolonize that. Animals that are water born, that have water born larvae are going to recolonize that. There is at least one species of invertebrate that we know of that seems to be a rapid recolonizer. We might be able to use that as an indicator of trawling activity that has happened say in the last year or 2 yrs or 3 yrs even. The biggest problem in the ocean is that we just don't have that kind of background information to make statements about process and that is tough -
32:21 TB -and that is an argument in favor in keeping some areas pristine so that we can follow those processes
32:26 L W -we do know from shallow water that most species of animals that live in the ocean undergo some kind of long term cycling in their abundance. And the problem is, is that and you can see like from this cruise or some of the data that has been published -people get to these sites once. Maybe once every couple of years or once every decade. Well, that is not enough to build up any kind of information about long term cycling. So you are always open to the criticism that well those species aren't there bc they have just naturally died back for some reason and what can you say, you don't know.
33 : 04 TB -but that is an argument against doing something now is to say research like this needs to run its course we need to gather more info before we say stop bottom trawling.
33: 18 L W -yeh, that argument has been handed to us. We rejected bc we feel that most of these issues of biodiversity should be dealt with on a precautionary basis. And a precautionary approach would dictate that you say look, there is an indication that there is a severe problem that we know that there is habitat destruction occurring with this gear. And we know that type of habitat destruction results in the loss of some species. What we don't know are what are the consequences of that or what are the recolonization rates and there are a lot of things we don't know. And people have in fact said well why should we stop trawling until we really know those things. One could also argue that bc this has been going on for 75 years that maybe some really severe problems have happened to the ecosystem that we know nothing about. So it makes sense from a precautionary approach to stop this trawling at least in some areas so that we can get some idea of what has happened -LOUD BG SOUND 34:19
34:32-34:50 sound of the ROV being moved
36:45 -LW -you know what happens? Well this water isn't so deep, but I have done ROV cruises where you have the ...
37:28 moving of the ROV from ship
38:03 LW -bc we don't know anything abut low term cycling of the invertebrates that live in these bottom habitats that it would make some sense to have some of these areas left so that they are completely undisturbed ... 38:34 so it would make some sense just to limit trawling in some areas ... 38:39 so it would make some sense to limit trawling in some areas.
39: 03 TB -25 years after the establishment of some of these NMS are they truly sanctuaries giving your concerns?
39:15 LW -no, they are not. I mean granted there isn't gravel mining and there isn't oil exploration out here and there are whales and people can go whale watching but they are not sanctuaries for all of the biota. That is my biggest concern. There are a lot of species that we don't know about that no one is studying, that no one is monitoring and yet those species are under attack if you will by the use of this kind of mobile gear on the bottom here. 39:47
39:48-40:31 room ambi
**41:10 room ambi
**42:03-42: 12 bow thruster
**42:29-42:41 bow thruster
**42:53 -42:59 bow thruster
**43:54-44:08 bow thruster **44:35 room ambi with water trickling in bg
**45:40-45:49 bow thruster
**46:41-46:54 bow thruster -good ex. of thruster during interview (according to Chuck)
47: 17 end of DAT