State of the Ecosystem Reports for the Northeast U.S. Shelf

The annual State of the Ecosystem reports developed for the New England and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils provide the current status of the Northeast Shelf marine ecosystems.

Infographic representing the fishing industry, primary production, fishing, climate, wind farms, fish, advice and currents.

State of the Ecosystem Reports

The annual State of the Ecosystem reports provide the current status of the Northeast Shelf marine ecosystems (Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, and the Mid-Atlantic Bight). They are developed for the New England and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils. These annual and collaboratively produced reports inform the councils about social, ecological, and economic aspects of the ecosystem from fishing engagement to oceanographic and climate conditions. 

View the complete 2020 Mid-Atlantic report (PDF, 31 p)

View the complete 2020 New England report (PDF, 39 p)

A map of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf ecosystem showing the Gulf of Maine in the north, Georges Bank east of Cape Cod, and Mid-Atlantic Bight in the south.  The image includes the Gulf Stream and Labrador Current, examples of warm and cold rings, and the cold pool in the Mid-Atlantic Bight region.

The Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf ecosystem showing the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and Mid-Atlantic bight regions as well as the dominant currents and oceanographic features.  

These reports are part of a larger, iterative Integrated Ecosystem Assessment approach. The approach integrates physical, biological, economic, and social components of the Northeast Shelf marine ecosystems into the decision-making process. This allows managers to balance trade-offs and determine what is more likely to achieve their desired goals. They are produced by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, with additional collaborators from academic research institutions, non-profit organizations, and state agencies.


2020 Highlights

The Northeast U.S. Shelf is one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world. We are observing changes in climate, nearshore, and ocean processes, as well as human uses. These changes are affecting ecosystem productivity, fishing communities, and regional economies.  The 2020 reports highlight these changes and are intended to inform fishery managers of changing ecosystem conditions. This will enable them to sustain seafood production, recreational opportunities, and the other benefits that fisheries provide. 

Infographic showing the research spotlight on fish condition. Fish condition, "fatness," is an important driver of population productivity. Condition is affected by changing habitat (e.g. temperature) and ecosystem productivity, and in turn can affect market prices. We are investigating potential factors influencing fish condition to better inform operational fishery management decisions. The diagram shows possible relationships between oceanographic and habitat indicators, food web indicators, fish condition factor, fish population indicators, fishery economics indicators, and fishery objectives such as seafood production.

The Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf ecosystem showing the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and Mid-Atlantic bight regions as well as the dominant currents and oceanographic features.


2020 Key Findings

decorative image

Fisheries remove a proportion of the total energy available to the ecosystem (primary production). Since 2000, the proportion of energy removed by fisheries has been declining. In the Mid-Atlantic, commercial landings have declined while primary production has remained steady. In New England, commercial landings have been steady while primary production has increased slightly.


decorative image

Engagement in commercial fishing has been declining since 2004 for medium to highly engaged Mid-Atlantic fishing communities. Conversely, engagement is increasing in New England for moderately engaged fishing communities.


decorative image

In New England, two single-species commercial fisheries—Gulf of Maine lobster and Georges Bank scallops—account for a majority of catch and revenue. Relying on single-species fisheries can be a risk to fishing communities if these populations decline.


decorative image

Fish habitat modeling indicates which species are most likely to be found in current and proposed wind energy lease areas. For the Mid-Atlantic managed species, summer flounder, butterfish, longfin squid, and spiny dogfish top the list. For New England managed species,  Atlantic herring, little skate, winter skate, windowpane flounder, and winter flounder rank highest.


decorative image

Over the last decade, marine heatwaves—periods of prolonged above-average water temperatures—have increased in intensity and duration throughout the region. Temperatures at the bottom of the ocean are also warming. 

 

Coastal habitats are under stress in the Mid-Atlantic. Heavy rains in 2018–2019 degraded Chesapeake Bay water quality, increasing oyster mortality and spreading invasive catfish. Sea-level rise is also altering coastal habitats, driving declines in nesting seabirds on Virginia islands.

 

decorative image

The Gulf Stream is shifting northward and is increasingly unstable, producing more warm core rings. These smaller-scale eddies break off from larger ocean currents, rotate clockwise in a ring, and circulate warm Gulf Stream water within the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem. The result is a higher likelihood of warm salty water and the appearance of associated oceanic species such as shortfin squid on the shelf.  


During the last three years, the source waters flowing into the Gulf of Maine have been dominated by warm offshore waters associated with the Gulf Stream. In comparison to the past, almost no cold waters originating from the Labrador Current have entered the Gulf of Maine. The changing proportions of source water affect the temperature, salinity and nutrient inputs to the gulf.

Mid-Atlantic State of the Ecosystem Reports: 2017, 2018, 2019
New England State of the Ecosystem Reports: 2017, 2018, 2019

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on June 19, 2020