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A Report of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program Georges Bank Predation Study: Report of the 1994-96 Field Seasons.

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This paper forms part of a broader overview of biodiversity of marine life in the Gulf of Maine area (GoMA), facilitated by the GoMA Census of Marine Life program. It synthesizes current data on species diversity of zooplankton and pelagic nekton, including compilation of observed species and descriptions of seasonal, regional and cross-shelf diversity patterns. Zooplankton diversity in the GoMA is characterized by spatial differences in community composition among the neritic environment, the coastal shelf, and deep offshore waters. Copepod diversity increased with depth on the Scotian Shelf. On the coastal shelf of the western Gulf of Maine, the number of higher-level taxonomic groups declined with distance from shore, reflecting more nearshore meroplankton. Copepod diversity increased in late summer, and interdecadal diversity shifts were observed, including a period of higher diversity in the 1990s. Changes in species diversity were greatest on interannual scales, intermediate on seasonal scales, and smallest across regions, in contrast to abundance patterns, suggesting that zooplankton diversity may be a more sensitive indicator of ecosystem response to inter annual climate variation than zoo plankton abundance. Local factors such as bathymetry, proximity of the coast, and advection probably drive zooplankton and pelagic nekton diversity patterns in the GoMA, while ocean-basin scale diversity patterns probably contribute to the increase in diversity at the Scotian Shelf break, a zone of mixing between the cold-temperate community of the shelf and the warm-water community offshore. Pressing research needs include establishment of a comprehensive system for observing change in zooplankton and pelagic nekton diversity, enhanced observations of "underknown" but important functional components of the ecosystem, population and metapopulation studies, and development of analytical modeling tools to enhance understanding of diversity patterns and drivers. Ultimately, sustained observations and modeling analysis of biodiversity must be effectively communicated to managers and incorporated into ecosystem approaches for management of GoMA living marine resources.
Georges Bank, a shallow submarine plateau located off the New England coast, has supported valuable commercial fisheries for several centuries. The region is characterized by high levels of primary productivity and, historically, high levels of fish production, Within the last four decades Georges Bank has been subjected to major perturbations that have profoundly altered levels of catch, abundance, and species composition. The arrival of distant water Beets during the early 1960s resulted in dramatic increases in effective fishing effort and the subsequent commercial collapse of several fish populations. Total fish biomass is estimated to have declined by >50% on Georges Bank during the period of operation of the distant water Beets, The implementation of extended jurisdiction (the 200-mile [370.4-km] limit) in 1977 was followed by modernization and increased capacity of the domestic Beet, resulting in a second perturbation to the system that resulted in further declines in groundfish populations to historically low levels, A subsequent increase in the abundance of species of low commercial value was documented, with an apparent replacement of gadid and Bounder species by small elasmobranchs (including dogfish sharks and skates), Examination of feeding guild structure suggests that this switch in species dominance may have been Linked to a competitive release, The small elasmobranchs, notably dogfish sharks, also prey on species of commercial importance (primarily small pelagics, including herring and mackerel), The cumulative impacts on the groundfish populations as a result of intense exploitation and predation pressure may have been further exacerbated by effects of fishing gear on the physical structure of the habitat. Implications for the development of an ecosystem-based management approach are described.
Thesis (Master of Science)--Southeastern Massachusetts University, 1991. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 60-69).