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Proposal for a Habitat Area of Particular Concern for Juvenile Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua) in the Nearshore Waters of the Gulf of Maine. Approved December 1999. NEXT PAGE

This important 1999 study by the New England Fishery Management Council recommends "designating a juvenile Atlantic cod HAPC for the perimeter of the Gulf of Maine from mean low water (MLW) to a depth of 9 m below MLW (30')."

The report notes that:
"The benthic community within this very narrow coastal zone has been found to be critical for Atlantic cod during a short period following metamorphosis from the larval stage and prior to settlement to demersal habitat. It serves as a source of cod replenishment for seaward fishing areas because juveniles move into deeper offshore water as they mature. Other valuable groundfish (e.g., winter flounder and white hake) as well as American lobster would also be afforded the same protection."


Proposal for a Habitat Area of Particular Concern for Juvenile Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua) in the Nearshore Waters of the Gulf of Maine.
Prepared by: EFH Technical Team (Excerpted from the 1999 Habitat Annual Review Report)
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According to the language of the NMFS guidelines [Federal Register 62 (244): 66531-66559], EFH that is judged to be particularly important to the long-term productivity of populations of one or more managed species, or to be particularly vulnerable to degradation, should be identified as a "habitat area of particular concern" (HAPC) to help provide additional focus for conservation efforts.

There are four basic criteria suggested by NMFS for identifying areas or habitat types for consideration as an HAPC:

(1) the importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat;
(2) the extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation;
(3) whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type; and,
(4) the rarity of the habitat type.

Habitats that are particularly vulnerable to specific fishing equipment types should be identified for possible designation as habitat areas of particular concern.

The intent of the HAPC designation is to identify those areas that are known to be important to species in need of additional levels of protection from adverse impacts (fishing or non-fishing). Designation of an HAPC is intended to determine what areas within EFH should receive more of the Council's and NMFS' attention when providing comments on federal and state actions, and in establishing higher standards to protect and/or restore such habitat.

In the omnibus EFH amendment, the Council made two HAPC designations. One, for juvenile Atlantic cod, designated a small portion of northeastern Georges Bank within the boundaries of Closed Area II, based on the identification of gravel habitat with an increasing biomass of emergent epifauna. Current scientific studies identify this type of habitat as important for recently settled juvenile cod, providing shelter from predation and possibly an increased food supply. The second HAPC includes eleven rivers in Maine that support the only remaining U.S. populations of naturally spawning Atlantic salmon that have river-specific characteristics. .

The Council's EFH Strategic Plan states that with each Habitat Annual Review Report, the Habitat Committee will consider any additional information for the designation of additional HAPC's, as appropriate, where the quantity or quality of a particular habitat type or area is directly linked to an ecological bottleneck for one or more species. The designation of HAPC's will extend, as appropriate, to areas or habitat types that are EFH for a vulnerable life stage of a significant number of Council-managed species or group of Council-managed species (i.e., flatfish, Gadidae, etc.).

Juvenile Atlantic Cod and Inshore Gulf of Maine
Presently, the Georges Bank cod stock is assessed as well below the maximum sustained yield biomass threshold (B/msy); however, the spawning stock biomass has been increasing in recent years under a broad suite of management regulations pursuant to the conservation goals of the FMP (NEFMC's MSMC 1998). Unfortunately, recent recruitment has been poor, and 1994-97 year classes have been among lowest on record (NEFSC 1997).

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