NOAA 2000-014
Contact: Gordon Helm

Ocean Trust to lead project development for NFI

An agreement to restore marine fish habitats along coastal areas through partnerships with local communities has been formalized by officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Fisheries Institute. The agreement, signed by NOAA, NFI and Ocean Trust at the International Boston Seafood Show, provides a framework for cooperation on a wide range of projects to increase sustainable fish harvests and to help local communities accomplish meaningful habitat restoration in a cost-effective manner.

"We are pleased to announce this powerful habitat restoration partnership at the nation's largest gathering of seafood industry professionals, because healthy and sustainable fisheries are so important to their livelihood," said Andy Rosenberg, deputy director of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. "Now, with the support of the National Fisheries Institute, we will be able to increase the restoration of coastal environments so vital to maintaining healthy commercial fishery resources."

"Conserving habitat is critical to maintaining and enhancing our supply of fish and seafood," said Dick Gutting, president of the National Fisheries Institute. "Our members believe it is important to give back to the resources upon which they all depend. NFI is pleased to have an opportunity to partner with fishery scientists and managers In this important work."

NFI and NOAA recognize the need for communities to be actively involved in protecting and restoring fisheries habitat. Often, however, communities lack the technical or full financial resources to address these problems alone. The new agreement will provide funding and habitat restoration expertise to begin projects around the United States during the first year of the partnership, with plans to complete these and future projects as resources become available.

"This unique partnership will allow us to address major threats to the health of our fish populations such as habitat degradation, blockages to migrations, and poor water quality," said Rosenberg. "It is important that federal and private agencies continue to combine their resources and work together to address habitat problems. By improving fish habitat, we will make a difference in commercial fishing communities by helping to create sustainable resources."

The partnership is designed to leverage federal funding, and will allow NOAA Fisheries technical experts and the member base of the NFI and affiliated organizations, such as Ocean Trust and the Responsible Fisheries Society, to undertake community-based habitat restoration across the nation. The projects, which will be dependant in part upon the voluntary contributions of NFI members on a project-by-project basis, must contribute directly to the joint goal of restoring estuarine and marine habitats, especially salt marshes, seagrass beds, coral reefs, mangrove forests, shellfish beds, and other habitats important to commercial fisheries species, including anadromous fish.

NFI member Darden Restaurants worked with NOAA prior to the national partnership on a lobster restoration project in New England. NFI will be building on this past success by looking to its members to provide funds and volunteer labor to match NOAA funds and technical assistance for projects approved under the new partnership.

NFI members have introduced two projects for consideration. A Texas project proposes to restore tidal flow to about 5,000 acres of important nursery habitat where tidal exchange was eliminated during the construction of a ship channel. Reflooding the bay, which has been dry for 70 years, will dramatically increase habitat for populations of shrimp, crab, and finfish that historically thrived in the area. In Bellingham, Wash., NFI member Bornstein Seafoods is pledging volunteer support to improve salmonid habitat and fish passage in Squalicum Creek. Native species of fish in this creek include coho, chum and chinook salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout -- all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

A shellfish restoration project in Ipswich, Mass. has also been proposed that would work cooperatively with local citizens, including out-of-work fishermen, to provide an economically optimal method of shellfish production to sustain shellfish and shellfish harvests in North Shore communities. Restoring shellfish beds is expected to improve water quality, and will provide shellfish spawn to naturally increase local shellfish populations as well as provide food for finfish species. A more stable and sustainable soft-shell clam fishery for the region's economy is also expected to result.

NFI is a non-profit industry trade association working to ensure healthy and sustainable fisheries resources. NFI has a unique connection with commercial fishing interests that voluntarily support Principles for Responsible Fishing, guidelines designed to safeguard the sustainability of fisheries and the public's trust in the industry's stewardship of fishery resources. Ocean Trust, an education and research foundation, administers NFI conservation programs, including the Responsible Fisheries Society, and will be a key element working with NOAA to restore and protect fisheries habitat.

NOAA Fisheries is a leader in the effort to protect, conserve and restore habitats that sustain marine and anadromous fisheries. NOAA Fisheries has a growing community-based restoration program that provides seed money and technical expertise to help communities address habitat concerns of local importance. The success of this program is based on the national and local partnerships developed to implement each project. By working cooperatively with other federal and state agencies, schools, and private industry and volunteer organizations, the actual value of each restoration is far greater than the amount invested.