Volume 5, No. 3

Promoting Cooperation to Maintain and Enhance
Environmental Quality in the Gulf of Maine

Fall 2001
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Draining the river dry: Ipswich & Lamprey rivers
A decade of clean water action
Latest right whale efforts
Painting sacred grounds
Canada's best endangered species law
Salmon farmers, environmentalists' accord
Dam removal resources



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Gulf Log

Asian crab eating its way north

The Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), native to the coasts of southern Russia, Japan, Korea and China south to Hong Kong, has taken over tidepools along the Atlantic coast. Like some other alien species that find their way to the United States, this bioinvader probably arrived in the ballast water of a ship dealing in global trade. In 1988, a biology student identified an Asian shore crab on Cape May, New Jersey. Since then the crustaceans have been scuttling north and south along the eastern seaboard.

Pemaquid, Maine, 1/2001. Photo: Daryl-Ann Hurst

Asian shore crabs have a flat, square carapace with three spines on each side and can grow to about two inches across. They live mostly in inter-tidal zones, but have been found in shallow sub-tidal areas, on floating docks, near pilings and on the edges of salt marshes. They reproduce in the spring and can spread quickly as larvae travel on ocean currents.

Researchers have found concentrations of 100 crabs per square meter or more on the Connecticut coast and in Massachusetts' Buzzards Bay. Although their range now extends south to the Carolinas, they are less abundant south of New Jersey because the beaches are too sandy. The crabs prefer to live under rocks in gravelly sand.

"They like structure and seek shelter," said Nancy O'Connor, associate professor of biology at UMass Dartmouth.

Along the rocky coast of New England, small numbers of crabs had reached the Isle of Shoals off New Hampshire. Earlier this summer, a boy at a day camp discovered Maine's first Asian crab in Casco Bay.

O'Connor said they might infiltrate Canadian waters eventually. Local water temperature conditions will be a factor determining where they settle, she said.

Scientists are studying the crab to determine how the intruder is impacting the local ecology. The crabs occupy a niche that overlaps that of the larger green crab (Carcinus maenas), which is also a non-indigenous species that arrived from Europe over a century ago. Judith Pederson, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's SeaGrant College Program, said that while both species have similar feeding habits there is less competition between them than originally expected, possibly because green crabs have a larger habitat range.

Asian shore crabs are omnivores who feed on algae, small mollusks, and barnacles. The crustaceans could become pests to aquaculturalists, since they might be able to live in shellfish trays. However, their small claws are unable to attack large mollusks. Young shellfish would be the most vulnerable to predation, Pederson said.

 - Maureen Kelly

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NOAA awards Council $430,000 for restoration projects

The National Marine Fisheries Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded the Gulf of Maine Council $430,000 (CND $660,000) to finance regionally important coastal habitat restoration projects. The Council has pledged to match a minimum of $430,000 through in-kind or cash support, bringing the potential total value of the funding to more than $800,000.

"These grants may be $5,000 to $25,000," says Eric Hutchins, a fish biologist for the NOAA Community-Based Restoration Program in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and a member of the Habitat Committee for the Gulf of Maine Council. "So potentially there will be a significant amount of restoration." He adds that NOAA has approved the funding for the next two years, at or above $430,000 a year.

David Keeley, state planner for the Maine State Planning Office and former chairman of the Council's working group, says the grant will help the Council carry out its new action plan, with coastal restoration as one of its key priorities. He adds that the funds will also help build upon existing restoration programs in the region.

"The Gulf of Maine Council is now a player in helping communities and organizations improve coastal marine habitat, but there is a good deal of work that needs to be done," he says. "We have not degraded the Gulf of Maine overnight and we're not going to fix it overnight."

The Council's Habitat Committee, comprised of representatives from the U.S. and Canada, is in the process of determining the proposal criteria for groups or organizations interested in applying for grants. The funding is targeted for river restoration, salt marsh or coastal wetlands restoration and subtidal habitat restoration projects.

Specifically, Keeley says, "The Council would grant money for engineering studies, actual restoration work and for monitoring any changes following the restoration for two or three years." He adds that initially the funds will be spent in the U.S. Gulf of Maine. Details on applying for the restoration grants will be available on the Council's Web site (www.gulfofmaine.org) this fall.

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Varney appointed as EPA administrator

Robert W. Varney, who headed the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) for 12 years was recently appointed as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) administrator for Region 1.

Varney is responsible for EPA activities in the six New England states. During his time as DES commissioner, several new programs were established, including a small business technical assistance program, a pollution prevention program in partnership with the University of New Hampshire and several new financial assistance programs.

He is one of the longest-serving state environmental agency heads in the country. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire nominated Varney to the federal post earlier this year.

Varney recently served as chairman of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. He is an original member and vice chairman of the Ozone Transport Commission, comprised of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to help develop solutions to reduce ozone. He also served as chairman of both the New England Governors Conference Environment Committee and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.

In a recent interview Varney told the Union Leader of New Hampshire that his goal as an EPA administrator is to, "provide more flexibility to the states in carrying out their regulatory activities, especially in areas of 'brownfield' redevelopment and energy conservation and efficiency."

The federal brownfield program promotes the cleanup and reuse of contaminated sites with grants to states and offers limited liability to the companies that develop the sites.

At Varney's swearing in ceremony last month in Boston, U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman told the audience, "Robert Varney made many contributions to improving the air, water and land and protecting the public health of citizens of New Hampshire."

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Whale ship strike report

While U.S. and Canadian experts struggled to save a right whale dying from entanglement in fishing gear this summer, the Ship Strike Committee of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a draft report urging the establishment of regional speed and routing restrictions for ships to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from collisions.

The report calls for three types of measures: routing of ships around observed whales; speed restrictions on vessels operating in right whale habitat; and mandatory shipping lanes through critical habitat areas to minimize the number of vessel miles traveling through right whale habitat.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most rare whale species, with approximately 300 individuals recorded by scientists. Ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear are the two primary causes of right whale mortality. Right whales share their critical habitat with major shipping routes along the U.S. East Coast, making them especially susceptible to collisions with large ships. This year, two right whale calves were hit by ships and killed (see story in this issue).

"Right whales feed, bear calves or migrate in waters off every port on the U.S. East Coast," said Bruce Russell, co-chairman of the Ship Strike Committee and author of the report. "If the report's recommended measures are implemented, mariners will be given the tools to avoid collisions with right whales and will be required to slow their speed through right whale habitat."

The draft report calls for varied measures or combinations of measures in different East Coast waters, particularly in approaches to ports.

Actions already taken by NMFS include restrictions on when, where and how fishing gear known to entangle the whales can be used; the creation of a whale sighting advisory system; research to make fishing gear whale safe; research on the basic biology of right whales; and an active disentanglement network.

The draft report is available at: http://www.nero.nmfs.gov/whaletrp/. Go to "What's New."

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CARA off and running again

The U.S. House Resources Committee has adopted the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), H.R.701. CARA would use federal oil and gas receipts to provide $900 million (CDN $1.3 billion) for land acquisition, conservation, wildlife and recreation projects. Another $1 billion in funds would be dedicated to coastal impact and conservation, with projected funds for the U.S. Gulf of Maine states to total around $34 million (CND $52 million).

Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts, 4/2001. Photo: Daryl-Ann Hurst

CARA passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan and majority vote in the last session. Sixty-five senators pledged their support to CARA, but there never was a Senate vote and the bill was not enacted into law. Instead, some of the projects were funded through a separate program dubbed "CARA-Lite."

In the new version, CARA gives states more flexibility and control of how public lands are acquired and used. State and local officials will decide whether funds are used for permanently protecting wildlands and important habitat, improving wetlands, enhancing recreational areas or building city parks and playgrounds. A full vote in the House is expected this fall.

To track the progress of the bill go to: www.house.gov/resources/ocs/.

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Nominations for stewardship awards

Every year the Gulf of Maine Council presents its Visionary Award to two individuals or organizations from each province and state bordering the Gulf. The awards recognize the invaluable contributions made by those who personify an innovative, creative spirit, and a commitment to sustaining, improving and protecting the marine environment.

The Council also recognizes an exemplary volunteer from the Gulf region with its Art Longard Award. Longard, who died of cancer in 1997, was a founding member of the Council and believed strongly in the importance of volunteers in conserving the Gulf of Maine's resources. Anyone interested in nominating a candidate can download a form at www.gulfofmaine.org/council/awards.htm.

Nominations must be received by October 12.

For further questions contact Laura Marron, the Gulf of Maine Council's coordinator, at lmarron@des.state.nh.us, or call her at (603) 271-8866. To read about the latest award winners go to the Gulf of Maine Times' Web site.

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