September 3, 2009

Northwest Atlantic ecosystem is changing

U.S. scientists say human impacts and environmental factors are changing the northwest Atlantic Ocean ecosystem.

A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast Fisheries Science Center shows fish in U.S. waters from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian border have moved away from their traditional, long-time habitats during the past four decades because of fundamental changes in the regional ecosystem.

NOAA's 2009 Ecosystem Status Report also notes the need to manage the waters off the northeastern coast of the United States as a whole, rather than as a series of separate and unrelated components.

Known as the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, the ecosystem spans approximately 100,000 square miles and supports some of the highest revenue-generating fisheries in the nation, NOAA said. During the past 40 years, the ecosystem has experienced extensive fishing by domestic and foreign fleets, changes in ocean water temperatures due to climate change, and pressures from increasing human populations along the coast.

Michael Fogarty, who heads NOAA's Ecosystem Assessment Program says his team's report highlights the need to understand natural and human-related changes and develop effective management and mitigation strategies.

The report, the first in a planned series of ecosystem status reports by Fogarty and his colleagues, is available at