important as a fishing ground, Stellwagen Bank is now one of
the premiere whalewatching destinations in the world. Whalewatch
vessel entry to the Sanctuary comes primarily from eight ports
along the coast of Massachusetts Bay, but occasionally also
from New Hampshire and southern Maine. Since the mid-1970s,
whalewatching has become an economically and educationally significant
activity in the Sanctuary. In fact, over 90% of all New England
regional whalewatching effort occurs within the Sanctuary boundaries.
1997, the most recent data year, direct gross sales revenues
in the New England region for whalewatching were estimated at
around $21 million. At least 10 million people went whalewatching
in the Sanctuary between 1975 and 1993. An estimated 864,000
individuals went whalewatching there during the 1996 season
alone. On an annual basis, these numbers are generally believed
to have since increased.
companies often provide naturalist services during the trip,
which expand the experience into an educational event for passengers.
This service offers a promising avenue to instill a stewardship
ethic in Sanctuary visitors and raise their awareness about
how human activity can impact Sanctuary resources. It also provides
an important means to raise the visibility of the Sanctuary
among a varied and interested public. And, research indicates
that whalewatch companies will realize greater marketing advantage,
if they advertise that their whalewatching will be conducted
within the Sanctuary.
vessels can contribute to research on the interaction, associations
and behaviors of the whales that come to the Sanctuary to feed.
The Sanctuary humpbacks may be the best and most consistently
studied whales in the world due to the efforts of several local
scientific research organizations, often working in conjunction
with whalewatch companies. Whalewatch vessels can serve as invaluable
data collection platforms for research activities on Sanctuary
animals, activities that otherwise would have been greatly curtailed
due to cost.
the yield from groundfish, invertebrate, and pelagic fisheries
was a singularly important commercial resource for the New England
region beginning in the Colonial Period. Today, commercial fishing
remains among the more important sources of revenue for the
New England coastal states. Precise estimates of the fishing
effort, and associated landings, applied to the Sanctuary on
a seasonal and annual basis are currently not available, but
continue to be a matter of significant interest.
hundred years ago, catches were abundant from local coastal
waters and the need to venture to distant offshore banks was
small. Handlines employed from small skiffs and sail craft yielded
modest daily catches while weirs or traps placed at river mouths
or harbors captured plentiful amounts of migratory fish. However,
the country's rapid growth increased pressure to extend fishing
effort to offshore locations. Subsequent advancements in vessel
propulsion, from sail to steam to diesel power, increased significantly
the distance off-shore that fishermen could fish, the size and
types of gear they could deploy, and ultimately their fishing
power and harvesting efficiency. This, coupled with introduction
of the otter trawl, led to major increases in annual catch.
the 1960s, large foreign trawlers began fishing the region for
non-traditional species, such as hake, herring and squid. By
the 1970s, vessels from a wide variety of countries had begun
targeting more traditional local species, such as haddock. New
England fisheries began to suffer biologically and economically.
Because there was no effective management of fisheries outside
the existing U.S. 12-mile contiguous zone, the Fishery Conservation
and Management Act of 1976 was passed to extend U.S. management
jurisdiction out to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline. This
action reduced the level of foreign fishing in the Gulf of Maine,
but compensatory increases in domestic fishing capacity through
the 1980s and 1990s contributed to overfishing and stock collapses.
a reduced but still extensive and active domestic commercial
fishery continues throughout the southwestern Gulf of Maine
and surrounding waters, although faced with serious problems
of over-capacity and operating under a complex regulatory regime
intended to rebuild fish populations. Stellwagen Bank is one
of several areas receiving concentrated fishing effort, as is
Jeffreys Ledge, Cashes Ledge, Tillies Bank, Brown Bank and the
more expansive Georges Bank. Fishing with mobile gear, such
as trawls, together with fixed gear, such as bottom-tending
gill nets and lobster pots, occurs extensively throughout the
Sanctuary. Commercial operators take species from four principal
categories: groundfish, pelagics, other finfish and invertebrates.
Fishing and Boating
Sanctuary is a popular destination for recreational fishing
boats, sailboats and powerboats. Recreational fishing, from
party boats, charters and private boats, is regularly directed
at fish from cod to bluefin tuna inside the Sanctuary. There
are 65 small boat harbors and over 80 boating and yacht clubs
sited along the Massachusetts coast giving access to the Sanctuary.
Recreational boaters typically transit the Sanctuary going to
and from Boston, coming from the Cape Cod Canal or Cape Cod
Bay, and from Provincetown or Cape Ann. Recreational boaters
are most numerous and often aggregate within the Sanctuary during
the whalewatching season from May to September. On a calm summer
day, recreational boats can number in the hundreds over Stellwagen
Shipping, Ferries and Cruise Ships
Sanctuary area can be described as the "gateway" to
maritime commerce of Massachusetts. As one of the busiest ports
in the country, Boston sustains great amounts of commercial
shipping traffic. Shipping lanes designated for entry and exit
to and from the Port cross the Sanctuary, with vessels plying
natural gas, cars from Europe and the Far East, and regional
freight, for example. Ferry service crosses the Sanctuary in
route to Provincetown from Boston, and ferry service between
Portsmouth (NH) and Provincetown, that would cross the Sanctuary,
is proposed. Such ferries operate at high speeds in excess of
30 knots. Cruise ship activity has been increasing and is heavily
promoted for the Port of Boston.
fiber optic cable was laid across the northern part of the Sanctuary
under federal permit in 2000. This cable provides a direct link
between North America and the Republic of Ireland. The cable
is designed for a life expectancy of 25 years and is buried
at an average depth of approximately 1.5 meters into the seafloor.
The cable was laid using a sea plow controlled from a cable
ship on the surface. While an advisory to mariners has been
posted to alert vessels to the cable's position, recent research
suggests the cable may be at risk of exposure and damage, where
it is routed through muddy basins subjected to fish trawling
or dredging. Other regional proposals exist for further fiber
optic cable laying, which could have additional impacts on the
western Sanctuary boundary abuts the Massachusetts Bay Disposal
Site (MBDS), which serves as a repository for material dredged
from the harbors of Boston and nearby cities. Most harbors and
navigation channels of New England require periodic maintenance
dredging to remove sediments that accumulate over time. Because
these fine-grained sediments are not suitable for use as fill
or for beach nourishment, they are disposed of at several locations
in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays.
MBDS is one such location and has been used since the 1940s,
first as a dumping area for industrial wastes, construction
debris, deliberately sunken derelict vessels, and for some dredged
material considered to be contaminated. Today the MBDS is approved
for ocean disposal of dredged material, which must conform to
the Environmental Protection Agency's Ocean Dumping Criteria
1940 and 1970, several other locations throughout Massachusetts
Bay were also used for the disposal of various industrial waste
products, these activities being largely unrecorded and unregulated.
While no longer allowed, the disposal of low-level radioactive
wastes during 1940s and 1950s was permitted at four sites within
Massachusetts Bay. The most frequently used was the Industrial
Waste Site located proximate to the westward edge of the Sanctuary
boundary and in the general vicinity of the MBDS.
Sanctuary's western boundary lies 12 miles seaward of the Massachusetts
Water Resources Authority ocean outfall that discharges treated
sewage effluent from several cities and towns, including Boston
into Massachusetts Bay. This outfall discharges an average of
350 million gallons of secondary treated sewage daily. Additional
capacity exists to discharge larger volumes, if needed.
less apparent impact on the site involves vessels that legally
dump graywater and head waste at sea within the boundaries of
the Sanctuary. If the head waste has been treated with an authorized
Marine Sanitation Device pursuant to section 312 of the Clean
Water Act, its dumping is allowed under Sanctuary regulations.
This practice pertains to all vessels, commercial and recreational,
that use or transit the Sanctuary.
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