The State of Coastal and Island Wildlife in Maine

Maddie Johnson, Connor O’Neil, Katherine Rizk, and Kellie Walsh

Executive Summary

The “State of Maine’s Coastal and Island Wildlife 2014” is the fourth chapter in The State of Maine’s Environment 2014, a report produced by the Environmental Policy Group in the Environmental Studies Program at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This is the eighth State of Maine’s Environment report published since 2004. In this chapter of the report, we analyze the status of coastal and island wildlife in Maine.

Coastal and island wildlife have played an important role in Maine’s history and continue to impact both the livelihoods and the economy of Maine’s people. Maine’s coastline is recognized as one of the world’s most biologically productive ecosystems (USFWS, 2005) and ocean-related industries employ approximately 10% of Maine’s residents (NOAA, 2013a). Long-term threats facing Maine’s coastal and island wildlife include warming waters, overfishing, and the improper management of invasive species. Short-term threats include habitat degradation, gear entanglement, and ship strikes. Assessing all of Maine’s wildlife was beyond the scope of this report so we instead examined five species in depth: Atlantic puffins, European green crabs, Atlantic herring, North Atlantic right whales, and Western North Atlantic harbor seals. These species are representative of four different coastal habitats and provide specific examples of the successes and failures in Maine’s coastal wildlife management.

Atlantic puffins are becoming increasingly affected by climate change as the Gulf of Maine is warming 99% fast than any other ocean in the world (Abel, 2014). The 2012 and 2013 breeding seasons saw a significant decrease in breeding success. Only 10% of Atlantic puffins on two of the most abundant breeding islands successfully reared a chick in 2013 (NAS, 2013a). As climate change persists in the Gulf of Maine, the stakeholders already involved in protecting island wildlife must broaden their scope and begin to identify future islands that could be potential nesting sites for Atlantic puffins to be protected as Significant Wildlife Habitat in order to protect the state listed threatened species.

Green crabs are the most widely distributed intertidal crab species in the world and are extremely responsive to temperature (Liegnel, Stillman, Baringou, Thabet, & Metais, 2014). Green crab populations increased exponentially along Maine’s coast in the 1950’s when temperatures became abnormally mild. The species is unique in that it is able to survive and thrive in water temperatures ranging from 0-35°C. Native species like soft shell clams were decimated during the 1950s due to green crab predation; however, populations quickly recovered due to the severely cold winters of the 1960’s. After four decades of cooler water temperatures, in 2006 the average sea surface temperature again increased to 12.5°C. For reference, the average sea surface temperature from 1960-69 was 8.2°C and the average from 2005-2013 was 10.4°C. Green crab populations have once again exploded as they did in the past, severely impacting the biodiversity and productivity of the intertidal zone.

Both the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission and NOAA state that herring are not being overharvested in the Gulf of Maine based off the most recent stock assessments (ASMFC, 2014a; NOAA Fisheries, 2014). These conclusions are a result of the creation of a Fisheries Management Plan for herring and subsequent amendments. Amendment four has been one of the most influential because it switches from Total Allowable Catch Levels to Annual Catch Levels in each herring management zone (NEFMC, 2010).

The wildlife in Maine’s deeper waters are primarily threatened by gear entanglement. The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale has an estimated 300-500 individuals left in the North Atlantic and each year, an average of 4.05 right whales are observed to be killed or seriously injured to the point of likely death (NMFS, 2013). Between 1997 and 2005, Maine lobster gear accounted for approximately 37% of all large whale entanglements and roughly 22% of tagged right whales were observed swimming near Maine exempted waters (Baumgartner & Mate, 2005; Young, pers. comm., 2011). The Large Whale Take Reduction Rule has reduced the likelihood of ship strikes and entanglement but conservation groups continue to recommend critical habitat area for the right whale be expanded beyond Massachusetts. Critical habitat area for right whales is in need of expansion, according to conservation groups and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Two Maine areas in particular, Jeffrey’s Ledge and Jordan Basin, have been proposed as potential critical habitat sites (McCarron, 2013).

The Western North Atlantic stock of the harbor seal has over 70,000 individuals between Canada and New England and can afford to lose 1, 662 individuals above natural mortality each year to reach its optimum sustained population (NMFS, 2014a). It is defined as being of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2014). Like right whales, harbor seals are primarily threatened by gear entanglement. Over 99% of fishery-induced mortalities and serious injuries between 2007 and 2011 were attributed to the Northeast Sink and Mid-Atlantic gillnet fisheries (NMFS, 2014a). The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 is recognized as sufficiently protecting this species but policymakers should recognize the threat of human activity on harbor seals (Gilbert, pers. comm., 2014).


The nation’s coasts are important for the economy and diverse ecosystems and wildlife. People have long used rivers and ocean to dump waste from factories and sewers (NOAA, 2014a). In some regions, this effluent became so toxic that wildlife began to perish (NOAA, 2014c). In other regions, over-harvesting and various human impacts degraded the ecosystem and impacted marine species.

In the 1970s, Americans recognized the severity of this situation. As a result, multiple laws were created to help ensure the cleanup of the nation’s waterways and the recovery of its wildlife species. In 1948, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was created to manage the discharge of pollutants into US waters (US EPA, 2014). In 1972, the law was expanded and became formally known as the Clean Water Act (33 USC § 1251 ). That same year, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was created. The MMPA prohibited the incidental taking of marine mammals in US waters (16 USC § 1361; 16 USC § 1801-1882). Shortly thereafter came the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. The ESA placed species that were either threatened or of concern under protection and mandated the conservation of their habitat (NOAA, 2014b). Finally, the Magnuson-Stevens Act was created in 1976 (16 USC § 1801-1882). The act is the fundamental US law governing both recreational and marine fisheries in the United States (16 USC § 1801-1882). The creation of these four federal laws in the 1970s showcases the changing attitudes among Americans with regards to their oceans, waterways, and wildlife species.

The people of Maine are particularly dependent on the success of their oceans and wildlife species. Today, over 10% of jobs in the state come from ocean-related industries (NOAA, 2013a). However, these benefits are extremely dependent on healthy coastal ecosystems (MCP, 2011). The state’s unique coastal habitats and diverse wildlife provide a number of ecosystem services including water filtration, carbon cycling, and flood protection (Schauffler, 2013). In addition, economic benefits like recreation and tourism have allowed many of Maine’s coastal communities to flourish over time.

However, overuse of Maine’s coastal resources have also caused issues. For example the collapse of Maine’s cod industry in the mid-1990s is a cautionary tale for today’s policy makers, scientists, and fishermen. In the 17th century, Atlantic cod was said to be so abundant that you could walk across the ocean on their backs (CCFS, 2013). Two centuries later, over-fishing led to the commercial collapse of the fishery in the 1990s, which resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and the cod quota was reduced by one third of the 1994 level (NOAA, 2013b). Today the Atlantic cod stocks in Maine remain low. The collapse of this singular species impacted the entire ecosystem (Cudmore, 2009).

Today, coastal development, economic growth, and climate change are major threats to Maine’s coastal and island wildlife. Together they have altered the physical and chemical environment of Maine’s coast, threatening thousands of critical yet vulnerable wildlife species (EPA, 2014). In 2013, more than half of the people who inhabited the Gulf of Maine lived in the coastal zone (Schauffler, 2013). On average, each of the eight Maine counties bordering the gulf increased in population by approximately 26% from 1980 to 2010 (GOMCME, 2013b). Human populations are expected to continue growing to another 600,000 individuals by 2025 (Pesch & Wells, 2004). Seasonal residents have also increased due to residential and commercial development along the coast. These new developments have altered land use and had both direct and indirect impacts on the coastal zone (Brookings, 2006). The increase in population coupled with a rise in coastal infrastructure is placing an unprecedented pressure on Maine’s fragile coastal habitats (Schmitt & Whiting-Grant, 2007).

Economic growth is also exerting similar stress on Maine’s coast. In 2013, Maine’s coastal municipalities employed 55% of the state’s workforce and comprised 60% of the state’s GDP (National Economics Program, 2014). In Downeast Maine, the average income from fishing is higher than the state average (GOMCME, 2013a). In addition, the coastal tourism industry in Maine provides more opportunities for employment than the fishing, farming, forestry, and aquaculture industries combined (cite). Both tourism and fishing industries are heavily dependent on healthy coastal habitats (GOMCME, 2013a).

Finally, the impacts from climate change are projected to cascade throughout Maine’s coastline. In the first half of 2012, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine were the warmest ever recorded (Dawicki, 2012). According to a study conducted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the coastal waters of Maine are warming at a faster rate than 99% of the world’s oceans (Abel, 2014). This change in ocean temperature is just one of the various physical effects brought on by anthropogenic atmospheric warming which are beginning to have significant impacts on Maine’s coastal environment. The response of each coastal wildlife species to changing conditions will vary meaning that some species will be negatively affected and others will thrive. The result will be a different coastal ecosystem than what we see today (NAS, 2013a). The adaptability of Maine’s coastal ecosystem to changing conditions will depend greatly on the management techniques and policies implemented to mitigate the effects of climate change.


In this chapter we evaluate the state of coastal and island wildlife in Maine by focusing on wildlife found in four distinct ocean habitats. Our report focuses on five specific indicator species, which we use to better understand the status of wildlife living in each physical zone. These four unique habitats include: islands, intertidal, offshore, and deep-water zones, defined below. Breaking down the vast coastal and island ecosystem into smaller habitats made our goal of assessing the overall state of coastal wildlife more manageable.

In 1969 the US Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources defined the coastal zone as, “the territorial sea of the United States and the tidal waters on the landward side of the low water mark along the coast, port and harbor facilities, marine recreational areas, and industrial and commercial sites dependent on the seas…” (CMER, 1969). Each coastal state was then left to define the landward extent of its coastal zone for itself. Maine defines its coastal zone to include all towns bordering the coast as well as all islands (Figure 4.1) (MCP, 2013).

Figure 4.1 Coastal zone of Maine (Maine Office of GIS, 2014).

The islands of Maine are home to diverse wildlife species that are supported by their unique rocky ledges and cobble lined shores (MCP, 2006).The islands offer predator-free and prey-abundant habitat for vulnerable wildlife groups like seabirds and small mammals. Many islands are recognized as critically important and have been protected by various conservation groups as significant wildlife habitat (USFWS, 2013).

The intertidal habitat serves as a valuable feeding and breeding ground for a variety of fish and invertebrate species. The zone is comprised of 44% mud flats, 25% rocky shore, 14% salt marsh, and the rest sandy beaches (Bigelow, 1999). Shellfish species are filter-feeding organisms, which can enhance water quality by taking things like algae, and other small particles out of the water. Both commercially and ecologically valuable species interact within the intertidal zone making it increasingly susceptible to environmental changes and trophic cascades.

The offshore habitat plays a key role in joining the wildlife species in the intertidal and deep-water habitats. A number of diverse taxa call the offshore habitat in Maine home. For example, species of marine phytoplankton that contribute to the production of 70% of the world’s oxygen live in the offshore habitat (Stevenson, Tuxbury, Johnson, & Boelke, 2014). In addition, the offshore habitat also acts as a nursery for species, like bottom-dwelling fish (Stevenson et al., 2014). Many commercially valuable species like herring live in the offshore zone.

The deep-water habitat is home to an array of species ranging from marine mammals and turtles to deep-sea fish and microorganisms like plankton. The geological and topographic diversity contributes to this biologic diversity. Many of the species within this dynamic habitat act as indicators for the health of Maine’s greater deep-water ecosystem. Population declines of the larger species, like whales and seals, can result in trophic cascades in deep-water communities that have the potential to deplete species richness or otherwise impact ecosystem health (Summers, Wippelhauser, Keliher, & Doughty, 2010).


We first conducted a general literature review to gain better understanding of Maine’s coastal and island wildlife using Colby libraries, Scopus, and Google Scholar. We used books, peer-reviewed journals, and government data from US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and Maine Department of Natural Resources (MDMR). We collected population and landings data for our five indicator species from the USFWS, NOAA, MDMR, US Humane Society, and National Audubon Society. Finally, we contacted 18 experts by e-mails and phone interviews.

We used ArcGIS software (ESRI 2014) to map the coastal zone of Maine, seabird habitat, and green crab census data. The data were obtained from the Maine Coastal Program. The data for the seabird habitat and puffin nesting habitat came from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Green crab data came from the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Laws and Institutions

Maine’s coastal and island wildlife are protected through various international, federal, and state laws. These laws define and regulate the use of coastal wildlife habitat, develop management plans, and protect a number of critical species. Protection of coastal and island wildlife is important due to their vulnerability and economic importance. A diversity of stakeholders and institutions play important roles in the protection of Maine’s coastal and island wildlife. They conduct research, develop conservation programs, and organize community outreach that directly influences the implementation and amendment of laws.

Federal Laws

The three most important federal laws governing coastal and island wildlife in Maine are (1) Endangered Species Act (ESA), (2) Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA) and, (3) Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) (Table 4.1). The ESA was created to define, protect, and recover endangered and threatened species of wildlife, fish and plants in the United States (16 USC § 1531-154). The law protects species habitats and oversees the agencies in charge of protecting the North Atlantic right whale to implement regulatory rules like the Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. The MAFCA is the primary law governing marine fisheries in the United States federal waters (16 USC §§ 1801-1882). It sets allowable catch limits, designates fishing zones, regulates fishing equipment, and requires onboard observers to ensure vessels adhere to these regulations. The MAFCA has a direct influence on Atlantic herring in Maine and revisions in 2006 required the fishery management plan for herring to be switched to Total Allowable Catch by 2011 (NEFMC, 2010). The CZMA creates a partnership for federal and state governments to work together to protect coastal zones in the United States. It provides federal funding to coastal states like Maine to develop measurements that conserve their coastal habitats (16 USC § 1451-1456).

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and Marine Mammal Protection (MMPA) are also essential laws that protect Maine’s coastal and island wildlife. They protect vulnerable species like the Atlantic puffin and North Atlantic right whale from killing, harassment and, hunting (Table 4.1).

Table 4.1 Selected federal laws pertaining to coastal and island wildlife in Maine

Migratory Bird Treaty Act1918Makes it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill migratory birds without a waiver as well as grants full protection to bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests16 USC § 703-712
Marine Mammal Protection Act1972Prohibits the taking of marine mammals in US waters and the ability of US citizens to take marine mammals from international waters16 USC § 1361-1407
Endangered Species Act 1973Protects and aids in the recovery of species listed as either, “endangered” or “threatened”16 USC § 1531-1544
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act1976Regulates fisheries by implementing allowable catch levels and market-based fishery management strategies16 USC § 1801-1882
Coastal Management Zone Act1982Gives NOAA the power to manage the nation’s coastal resource with the goal of protecting, conserving, and enhancing these resources and while promoting sustainable development16 USC § 1451-1456
Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan2008Regulates gear used by fisheries to reduce the rates of incidental mortality and serious injuries of marine wildlife50 CFR § 229


State Laws

Maine has a variety of laws that protect and conserve the state’s coastal and island wildlife. Two of these important laws are the Maine Endangered Species Act (MESA) and Natural Resource Protection Act (NRPA) (Table 4.2). The MESA protects wildlife species that are state threatened and endangered. The Atlantic puffin is currently state threatened in Maine and as stated in the MESA are managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) (12 MRS § 925). NRPA also plays a crucial role in protecting Atlantic puffins through habitat protection. Currently all puffin nesting islands in Maine in conservation ownership and protected as Significant Wildlife Habitat by the NRPA (38 MRS § 480-D).

There are several other more detailed state laws that manage coastal municipalities in Maine. They regulate specific species permits and licenses and outline management strategies for addressing various conservation issues (Table 4.2)

Table 4.2 Selected state laws pertaining to coastal and island wildlife in Maine

Maine Endangered Species Act1975Gives the Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife authority to adopt and implement rules regulating public use of any wildlife sanctuary or management area12 MRS § 925
Municipal Shellfish Conservation Programs1977States that any municipality may vote to raise and appropriate money towards implementing a shellfish conservation program12 MRS § 6671
Soft-Shell Clam Management1983Puts in place a 2 inch minimum size for soft shell clams and discusses tolerance, enforcement, and penalties faced by harvesters if they should break the law12 MRS § 6681
Natural Resources Protection Act1987Mandates that a permit be acquired for any activity located in, on, or adjacent to any protected natural resource38 MRS § 480-D
Marine Revised Statutes, Title 121997Updates Maine’s laws related to the conservation of coastal areas12 MRS § 6810-A
Commercial Shellfish License2005Requires a license to fish for, take, possess or transport shellfish within state limits12 MRS § 6601
Commercial Green Crab only License2013Discusses the regulations surrounding the harvest of green crabs12 MRS § 6808
Municipal Conservation Programs2014Explains the necessary things a municipality must do in order to have a municipal shellfish program12 MRS § 6671


Institutions and Stakeholders

International Government

Three international institutions are particularly influential in guiding conservation action and policy of vulnerable species like the right whale:  (1) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), (2) the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and (3) the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). All three assess population trends and current threats of wildlife around the world to inform the strength of trade, harassment, and killing regulations (CITES, 2013; Reilly et al., 2012).

Two international institutions responsible for monitoring human activities regarding whale protection and ship regulation are the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IWC is the principal international governing body in charge of conserving whales and regulating whaling while the IMO is a specialized agency under the United Nations that ensures shipping practices are safe, efficient, and environmentally sustainable. The League of Nations also helped outlaw whaling in 1935 before the IWC had been established in 1946 by the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (United States Court of Appeals, 2008).

Federal Government

The Federal and state governments play an integral role in protecting and conserving Maine’s coastal wildlife. Federal agencies such as The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) work to keep citizens engaged and informed about topics such as coastal and island wildlife through scientific research and community outreach. These agencies develop and supervise regional programs such as the Maine Coastal Program and the New England Fisheries Management Council, which have direct influence on the coastal and island wildlife in Maine. These agencies work together to develop, implement and oversee policies and management practices that impact coastal and island wildlife in Maine. The FWS and NOAA also co-chair an agency called the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force, which is dedicated to the prevention and control of aquatic nuisance species like green crabs (USFANSTF, 2011).

The US Coast Guard plays a critical role in overseeing and regulating ship and fishermen behavior. It is responsible for enforcing gear restrictions, vessel speeds, shipping lanes, and animal harassment. It is therefore an imperative institution regarding the protection of Maine’s coastal wildlife, especially for critically endangered species like the right whale. The National Marine Fisheries Service is the primary marine mammal regulatory agency for US waters under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Two federal institutions are responsible for Atlantic herring regulation and management in Maine. They are (1) The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and (2) The New England Fisheries Management Council. The Maine Department of Marine reports and collects data on herring landings in both state and federal waters.

State Government

Two state institutions are responsible for Atlantic herring regulation and management in Maine. They are (1) The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and (2) The New England Fisheries Management Council. The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) reports and collects data on herring landings in both state and federal waters.

The primary state agency dealing with green crabs in Maine is also the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). In 2013 the agency co-hosted a green crab summit with Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine, Orono which brought together stakeholders from all over North America. Maine Sea Grant is one of 33 NOAA Sea Grant programs and it serves as a powerful resource for sharing information. The goal of the Maine Sea Grant program at the University of Maine is to sponsor scientific research and develop tomorrow’s marine workforce by focusing on Maine’s coastal communities (Maine, 2014).

The FWS works alongside The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) to protect seabird habitat in Maine from predators, and human impacts as well as conduct scientific research that provide the best policies needed to protect species like the Atlantic puffin (USFWS, 2012). The MDIFW is also in charge of enforcing the Maine Endangered Species Act that prevents actions such as hunting, harassing, and selling of wildlife like the Atlantic puffin.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

NGOs play a crucial role in filling the gaps that government agencies fail to address when tackling environmental issues. They conduct research, facilitate policy development, and organize community outreach programs. NGOs receive the majority of their funding through interested parties and individuals. In our research, large NGOs like the National Audubon Society conduct leading studies on coastal and island wildlife and help to establish major conservation efforts. Smaller NGOs such as the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) employ scientists who carry out primary research, provide policy documents, and contribute to education.

The Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife contribute largely to research and protection of endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale. Along with three other conservation groups, these groups have been active in filing citizen suits against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to expand critical habitat area and strengthen gear restrictions since 2008.

The National Audubon Society (NAS) seeks to conserve and restore natural ecosystems to benefit humanity and the world’s biological diversity. NAS uses education, science and policy to protect and restore local habitats for birds and other wildlife. The NAS is one of the main conservation agencies that seeks to protect Atlantic puffins in Maine and created Project Puffin, the seabird restoration project aimed at bringing Atlantic puffins back to historical nesting sites in Maine in 1973. They continue to protect the Maine’s puffin populations today through scientific monitoring and community outreach (USFWS, 2012). The Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) also works to protect seabirds in the Gulf of Maine like the Atlantic puffin through   a partnership of public and private organizations. Regular members consist of groups like the Canadian Wildlife Service, Maine Audubon Society, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife. Most members are actively involved in seabird protection and restoration. The GOMSWG allows the member groups to communicate efficiently and develop reports and assessments that benefit seabirds in the Gulf of Maine (GOMSWG, 2014).

Industries and Communities

Coastal communities play instrumental roles in the management of Maine’s coastal and island wildlife. Fishermen and clammers rely on healthy stocks of fish, like herring and shellfish for income, tourism industries depend on the existence of popular species like whales, seals, and puffins to attract visitors, and coastal residents build much of their livelihoods around the culture of dining from, working with, and socializing near coastal resources. Lobsterman are also dependent on healthy herring populations for bait in their lobster traps. Communities therefore hold important stakes in the success of coastal wildlife in economic, social, and cultural contexts.

Local community efforts and initiatives have also proven to be the most successful agent for dealing with issues like invasive green crabs. Evidence of this has been seen internationally in Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia as well as within the state of Maine in the towns of Freeport and Brunswick.

Community stakeholders like the Maine Lobstermen, fishermen, and those involved in the Large Whale Take Reduction Team have large stakes in the rules enacted by the Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, which was established by NMFS and the Large Whale Take Reduction Team in 1997. The gear modifications required in this frequently amended Plan are often hard for lobstermen to keep up with and can be expensive, but are important components of right whale and marine mammal protection efforts in the Gulf of Maine.

Island Wildlife

The coast of Maine is defined by about 4,000 islands (MCP, 2006). Half of these islands are currently publicly owned; however, in terms of acreage, 94% of Maine Islands are private property. Federal and state agencies and conservation groups own over 1,500 of the public islands totaling almost 16,000 acres and this number is continuously increasing (Taft, Taft, & Rindlaub, 2002). These agencies are mostly interested in protecting and conserving the diverse wildlife present on Maine’s islands. This wildlife includes bald eagles, deer, raccoons, minks, and a variety of waterfowl and seabirds (BPL, 2003). Each of these wildlife species plays an important role in the island habitat as well as the three other coastal zone habitats we discuss in this chapter.

The majority of island wildlife in Maine is high on the coastal food chain and many are top predators. Top predators in coastal ecosystems help regulate population and ecosystem dynamics through consumption of prey (Estes, Crooks, & Holt, 2001). Most of Maine’s island wildlife is also wide-ranging, has consistent habitat use patterns, and site fidelity (Rosenblatt et al., 2013). These characteristics make island wildlife capable of impacting not only top-down but also bottom-down processes (Hughes et al., 2013). Seabirds in Maine are of particular importance to the island habitat and are an essential component to coastal ecosystems. They hunt over a wide geographic range, feed from many different trophic levels, and have been used as effective indicators of coastal ecosystem health (Cairns, 1988). Seabirds also possess several traits that make them highly vulnerable to disturbances causing their conservation status to deteriorate faster than any other bird group (Welch, 2013). Their vulnerability and importance make them one of the most studied and intensely managed island wildlife groups.


Seabirds have relied on Maine’s coastal islands as sanctuaries for raising their chicks for centuries (Butcher, 2008). Shortly after European settlement of the East Coast in the 17th century seabirds were hunted on Maine’s islands at alarming rates. Their eggs were used for food, and their feathers were used to stuff pillows, mattresses and decorate women’s hats (Friedman, 1981). The islands of Maine that had once been so abundant with birds were now virtually desolate (Butcher, 1973). At the end of the 19th century, the American Ornithologists’ Union’s Committee on Bird Protection began recruiting lighthouse keepers to help protect seabird colonies and ward off hunters. Shortly after this action, concern over the health of seabird populations became a public issue that led congress to pass the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 (Butcher, 2008). This Act makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, capture, kill or sell migratory birds without a special permit (MDIFW, 2014).

Currently seabirds nest on over 320 of Maine’s islands, and are highly concentrated on 5-11 of these islands. The islands provide important habitat for migrating and breeding seabirds (Gustavson, 2010). The rocky ledges and cobble shorelines of Maine’s islands support dense breeding colonies of 15 different seabird species (USFWS, 2012).  These species spend up to 90% of their lives at sea and are susceptible to habitat changes throughout their range but are particularly affected by the impacts on their local breeding habitats (Gustavson, 2010).

Seabird restoration and management is one of the primary focuses for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Maine (USFWS, 2012). Over the past 25 years conservation agencies have worked to reverse the historical decline in seabird populations and as a result many populations have been restored to historic breeding islands and now occur in higher numbers than previously recorded (USFWS, 2012). However, as human populations, development pressure, and climate change increase seabirds are beginning to face many new challenges in Maine. In this chapter we use the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica), one of Maine’s most iconic seabirds, as an indicator species for Maine’s island wildlife.

Atlantic Puffins

Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) breed from Maine, Canada, Greenland and Iceland across the Atlantic Ocean to northern Europe and Russia (MDIFW, 2003a). Maine marks the southern edge of Atlantic puffins’ breeding range and is thus is the only state in the US that contains Atlantic puffin populations (MDIFW, 2003b). Although Atlantic puffins are one of the most abundant seabird species in the North Atlantic, less than one percent of the population lives in Maine and the species is listed by the state threatened (GOMSWG, 2013). A century ago Atlantic Puffins were almost entirely eliminated from Maine because of intense seabird hunting for their eggs and feathers. Prior to this, puffins were breeding on at least six of Maine’s islands including Eastern Egg Rock, Western Egg Rock, Large Green Island, Matinicus Rock, Seal Island and Machias Seal Island (Friedman, 1981). Today there are five Atlantic Puffin colonies and about 7,000 breeding pairs in Maine (Figure 4.2) (GOMSWG, 2013). About 90% of Maine’s puffin population breed on three Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuges (MCINWR), with around 6,5000 breeding pairs solely living on Machias Seal Island (L. Welch, 2013).

Figure 4.2 Atlantic puffin breeding islands in Maine (MDEP, 2014).

Atlantic Puffins are part of the alcidae family and are medium-sized, chunky yet strong birds (MDIFW, 2003b). Around late April puffins start arriving on Maine’s islands to begin breeding. They return to the Atlantic Ocean in August where they spend up to 90% of their lives (MDIFW, 2003b). When present in Maine, they are covered in black and white feathers that contrast with their bright orange bill, legs and feet (Lowther, Diamond, Kress, Robertson, & Russell, 2002). Like all other puffins, Atlantic puffins usually return to the same breeding colony and lay a single egg in a burrow dug in the ground or within a rocky crevice (Lowther et al., 2002). Atlantic puffins are central place foragers, meaning that they return to the colonies to feed their chicks during breeding season. This makes attendance at breeding colonies very variable, some days only a few puffins may be present while other days breeding islands are covered in puffins (L. Welch, 2013). While in Maine during the breeding months, Atlantic herring and white hake make up the majority of the puffins diets (Breton & Diamond, 2014).

Atlantic puffins feed their chicks until they are about nine days old, when they are able regulate their own body temperature and feed themselves (Barrett, 1984). Once the chicks are able to fly they are independent of their parents and will not return to land until four to five years later when they are mature enough to begin breeding and can live well into their 30s (Lowther et al., 2002). Puffins disperse across the ocean in the winter months and are rarely seen once they leave Maine’s islands at the end of the summer. What Atlantic Puffins do during the winter months and where they go is still little understood (MDIFW, 2003b).

Current Conservation and Management

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and its amendments provide regulatory authority for the federal protection and management of Atlantic puffins. Currently Atlantic puffins in Maine are managed jointly by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). There are several conservation groups working alongside these departments, however the National Audubon Society (NAS) is the lead conservation agency working to protect Atlantic puffins in Maine (USFWS, 2012).

During the critical summer nesting months, a single human disturbance has the ability to eliminate all Atlantic puffin productivity for the season (USFWS, 2012). To prevent this from happening, the nesting islands are closed to the public during breeding season from April 1 to August 31 (NAS, 2013b). In the state of Maine, seabird nesting islands or habitats of endangered and threatened species may be designated as Significant Wildlife Habitat under the Natural Resources Protection Act of 1988. As a result of this law, all existing Atlantic puffin-nesting islands are in conservation ownership today by either the USFWS or the MDIFW and are extensively managed for seabird restoration(GOMCP, 2007). Four of the five nesting islands, Petit Manan Island, Matinicus Rock, Seal Island, and Machias Seal Island, are part of The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge (MCINWF). This wildlife refuge is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which designates certain protected areas within the United States and is managed by the USFWS (USFWS, 2013). The fifth nesting island, Eastern Egg Rock, is designated as the Allan D. Cruickshank Wildlife Sanctuary and is owned by the MDIFW yet managed by the National Audubon Society through a cooperative agreement (NAS, 2013b).

The main management goal for these organizations in regards to Atlantic puffins is to maintain and increase the number of breeding pairs present in Maine. They monitor progress towards this goal through seabird surveys and censuses. The MDIFW and USFWS are challenged by inadequate funding and personnel, which prevents them from making significant management decisions without the help of outside conservation groups (MDIFW, 2007).

Project Puffin

In 1901 almost all Atlantic puffins were eliminated from Maine except for one breeding pair on Matinicus Rock. Prompted by this dramatic decrease, a group of conservationists hired the lighthouse keeper on the island to keep hunters away (Salmansohn, 1997). This action combined with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 allowed puffins to begin coming back to Matinicus Rock. The other four islands that were also nesting islands to puffins in Maine did not experience this success. Aimed at bringing Atlantic Puffins back to the remaining historic nesting islands off the coast of Maine, in 1973, the NAS started Project Puffin (Friedman, 1981).

The four remaining historic nesting islands in Maine (Eastern Egg Rock, Seal Island, Petit Manan, and Machias Seal Island) had been taken over by gulls that prey on the eggs, chicks, and adult birds of species such as the Atlantic puffin. While many of Maine’s islands once again began to flourish with other birdlife after the passage of key conservation laws, puffins were unable to do so on any island except for Matinicus Rock because of the presence of predators (Salmansohn, 1997). This is where Project Puffin came in. The project began with attempting to restore Eastern Egg Rock where puffins had once nested until the last one was killed in 1885. Although it is not known how or why, puffins are known to return to the island where they hatched and this attribute is what was used as the basis of Project Puffin. In 1973, six puffin chicks, around 10 to 14 years old, were taken from Great Island in Newfoundland where more than 300,000 puffins lived (NAS, 2013c). They were then transplanted on the same day to Eastern Egg Rock where scientists who acted in place of their parent puffins reared them in artificial burrows and fed them a bounty of fish. Colored bands were placed on these chicks to allow them to be recognized in the future. Once August came around, the chicks began departing for their long journey at sea. Scientists hoped that in a few years once the chicks reached maturity they would return to Eastern Egg Island and a colony of Atlantic puffins would once again be established on this island. From 1973 to 1986 a total of 954 puffin chicks were transported from Great Island to Eastern Egg Island and of these chicks 914 successfully fledged (Friedman, 1981).

To ensure that this project had the highest possibility of success, the National Audubon Society enlisted the help of the USFWS to help prevent gulls from nesting on Easter Egg Rock as they present a threat to puffins if they were to come back to the island. Dozens of wooden puffin decoys were also painted to attract the puffins to the island (Salmansohn, 1997). In 1977, four years after the project was started, the puffins began to return to Eastern Egg Island. The project was successful and the colony on Eastern Egg Island increased to 101 pairs by 2008. The colony continues to increase today with around 7,000 nesting pairs present on five Maine islands (NAS, 2013c).

Summer 2012 to the Future

While Atlantic puffins have the advantage of living on islands that are protected from direct human impact during breeding seasons in Maine, they are far from safe from the Gulf of Maine’s rapidly changing climate. In the first six months of 2012 sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine were the warmest ever recorded (Dawicki, 2012). This temperature change coincides with a lower nesting success of Atlantic puffins in the Gulf of Maine for the 2012 and 2013 breeding seasons (NAS, 2013b).

Less than 1% of the total population of Atlantic puffins live in Maine; however these colonies play a vital role in demonstrating how climate change will affect island wildlife in Maine (MDIFW, 2003b). It is therefore crucial to determine the effects that climate change is having on Atlantic puffins in Maine and determine the best policy interventions necessary to ensure the continued future success of Maine’s island wildlife.

In the summer of 2012 and 2013, two situations developed on Matinicus Rock (MR) and Seal Island (SI) off the coast of Maine. Both occurred in response to climate change in the Gulf of Maine (GOM). After 30 years of studying seabirds it became apparent to the USFWS that the marine environment of the GOM is changing fast and some ocean birds may be failing to adapt (NWF, 2013). The scenarios of the past two Atlantic puffin nesting seasons on MR and SI may be isolated incidents, however there is no doubt that they are glance into the future of seabird responses to climate change in the GOM.

From late spring to the end of August Atlantic puffins nest on Maine islands where they rely heavily on Atlantic herring and white hake as a food source. White hake make up approximately 46% of Atlantic puffins diet on MR and SI, and herring make up approximately 18% of their diet (NAS, 2013b). The warmer waters of the Gulf of Maine have caused these fish species to begin moving to more suitable waters, making them less available to the Atlantic puffins during their nesting season (Dawicki, 2012). White hake and Atlantic herring have begun moving more northward into cooler and deeper waters (Nye, Link, Hare, & Overholtz, 2009). While these fish species, along with 24 other fish stocks found to be shifting their ranges are able to make these adjustments to find more suitable water temperatures, Atlantic puffins do not possess this ability. These seabirds have fixed limits as to how far they are able to go in search of food and are restricted to very specific and uncommon coastal habitats for nesting (NWF, 2013). The longer they have to fly in search of food, the more food that is needed for themselves and their young (NAS, 2013b). In the summer of 2012 the extreme water temperatures resulted in the earliest recorded phytoplankton bloom (Dawicki, 2012). This early bloom allowed butterfish to grow earlier and faster than usual. It also resulted in greatly reduced populations of Calanus finmarchicus, a type of nutritious zooplankton that is the primary food source for white hake and Atlantic herring (NAS, 2013b). In response to this decline of white hake and herring, Maine’s Atlantic puffin colonies began to bring back butterfish for their chicks. These abnormally large butterfish were too wide for the chicks to swallow. Piles of uneaten butterfish were found next to dead puffin chicks that had starved to death attempting to eat these fish (Canfield, 2013). On Seal Island Refuge 77% of puffin pairs typically fledge a chick however, due to the abnormally large butterfish and insufficient supply of white hake and herring in 2012, this rate when down to 31% (NAS, 2013b).

In the summer of 2013, Atlantic puffin breeding success continued to decline but very few butterfish were seen being delivered to puffin chicks. It was found that on MR and SI there were only two-thirds as many nests in 2013 as there were in 2012 (NAS, 2013b). The breeding pairs that laid eggs did so two weeks later than usual and many ended up abandoning their eggs. Surprisingly, only 10% of the breeding pairs on MR and SI successfully reared a chick and the chicks that did survive appeared to be growing very slowly. The disappointing events of the 2013 nesting season appeared to be a result of insufficient food. The 2013 spring algae bloom did not occur earlier like it had the previous summer, but had rather been much weaker than usual. This weak algae bloom resulted once again in a diminished supply of the zooplankton that white hake and herring feed (Hyde, 2013). The remaining third of Atlantic puffins that were absent from MR and SI during the 2013 nesting season were hypothesized to have taken the summer off from breeding due to poor conditions. These poor conditions included the harsh 2012-2013 winter as well as insufficient food supplies (NAS, 2013b).

By looking at what happened to the Atlantic puffin populations in Maine during the 2012 and 2013 breeding season, it is clear the effects of climate change are already being felt. It is important to note that the species overall is doing quite well because 99% of the population lives outside of Maine. The one percent of the population that rely on Maine’s islands as breeding sites, however, are becoming increasingly threatened. The Atlantic puffins of Maine’s islands are an indicator for the state of island wildlife in Maine. As the climate continues to change Maine’s island wildlife will be faced with many more challenges including prey migration and habitat destruction. The ability of Maine’s island wildlife to cope with these changes will rely on chance factors such as what new species will replace their old prey and how island habitats are altered.

Intertidal Wildlife

The intertidal zone that stretches along Maine’s coast is comprised of numerous rocky shores, sandy beaches, mud flats, and salt marshes which combine to form 145,069 acres of prime wildlife habitat (Bigelow, 1999). Maine is often referred to as “the rock bound coast” and its rocky shores contain some of the highest species diversity of any coastal habitat (MCP, 2014a). Rocks provide secure places for invertebrate and algal species to attach themselves while simultaneously providing suitable hiding and living space for fish and other wildlife species (MCP, 2014a). The state’s 70 miles of sandy beaches are challenging places for plants and animals to inhabit, but they still manage to support some unique and rare wildlife. Mudflats have historically supported immense populations of shellfish, marine worms, and countless other invertebrates, most of which hold important ecological or commercial value (MCP, 2014a). Grass dominated salt marshes, which are found adjacent to mudflats, are considered ecological powerhouses and their high productivity supports abundant populations of fauna like fish, shellfish, and water birds (Stevenson et al., 2014). All these different components together make the intertidal zone a complex web of species interactions.

Maine’s intertidal zone and the coastal waters associated with it have been seriously impacted by a steady increase in temperature over the last 40 years (Nye et al., 2010). Based on this observation we chose an indicator species for the intertidal zone whose abundance and impact on commercial and non-commercial species is affected by the physical condition of water temperature. Invasive green crabs, Carcinus maenas, were first introduced to Maine in the early 1900’s and will serve as our indicator species. In the Northern part of its range, Carcinus maenas is among the most responsive of common marine animals to temperature change. The species may therefore be a useful indicator of changes in the environment which affect associated animals in both direct and indirect ways (Welch, 1968).

Green Crabs

Green crabs are the most widely distributed intertidal crabs in the world and are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the world’s 100 worst invaders (Liegnel et al., 2014). They are native to Europe and northern Africa, but were introduced to the east coast of North America in the early 1800’s via the ballast of ships. It wasn’t until 1998 that The Federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF) formally recognized the species as an aquatic nuisance species, however, their impact was felt along the eastern coast of the United States long before that (ANS, 2014). With virtually no commercial value, the major interest surrounding the species in the United States lies in its role as a predator (Welch, 1968).

Post larval and adult green crabs are abundant in the intertidal and subtidal zones and can be found in water as deep as 60 meters. They are able to colonize a broad range of habitats which include soft bottom, salt marshes, woody debris, rocky substrate, and seagrasses (Liegnel et al., 2014). Green crabs are a major predator of shellfish from newly settled juveniles to adults (Congleton et al., 2006). Green crabs prefer bivalves, but are chemosensory foragers and adults can consume at least 104 distinct families of marine organisms included in 14 animal phyla (Liegnel et al., 2014). They can survive starvation for up to 3 months and can survive being out of water at room temperature for over a week (Liegnel et al., 2014). Additionally, green crabs produce roughly 165,000 offspring per mating event and can have multiple mating events per year (Beal, 2014) Winter water temperature appears to be the primary natural control regulating green crab populations (Beukema, 1991). For the remainder of this section we discuss how water temperature and changing green crab populations have impacted one commercial and one non-commercial species found in Maine’s intertidal zone. The soft-shell clam, Mya arenaria, is the commercial species case study and eelgrass, Zostera marina, is the non-commercial species case study. We examine the impacts of crabs on these species over time and across geographic ranges.

Early descriptions detailing the destructive capabilities of green crabs, especially on native species and habitats, comes from numerous reports produced throughout New England in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Green crabs were originally introduced to the mid-Atlantic around 1817, but populations quickly spread north and hit Atlantic Canada by 1951 (Kanary et al., 2014). In 1951 Franklyn E. Goucher, the soft-shell clam commissioner of Essex, Massachusetts, wrote a short piece titled “The Commentary of a Clam Digger” in which he described in detail his observations from 23 years of digging clams (Glude, 1955). Goucher stated that green crabs were present in Essex in the early 1900’s, but the town did not consider them a problem until after a series of mild winters in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Clams and eelgrass all but disappeared from Essex due to green crab predation and did not return until after a severe winter in 1934. From 1934 to 1944 Goucher seldom saw more than two crabs per year and resources like clams and eelgrass began to recover. The period of relief from green crabs was brief and temperatures began to rise again in the late 1940’s. Goucher concluded his piece stating that it appeared as if history was repeating itself (Goucher, 1951). The increase in sea surface temperature as recorded by DMR around the time Goucher was writing was unprecedented (Figure 4.3). The clam industry in Maine peaked in 1946 with almost 10,000,000 meat pounds landed and by 1959 a record low of 1,450,600 meat pounds of clams were landed (DMR, 2013a). The unusually mild temperatures allowed green crabs to proliferate all across New England having devastating impacts on native resources.


Figure 4.3 Soft-shell clam landings in thousands of meat pounds in Maine and average sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Maine from 1925 to 2012 (MDMR, 2014).

In Maine biologists at the Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries, what is now DMR, began to take notice of Franklyn Goucher’s account. They also paid close attention to what was happening to Massachusetts’ clam landings as well as their own. Commercial landings in Mass fell from 8,598,100 pounds in 1940 to 625,000 pounds in 1948 (Glude, 1955). Green crabs were indeed looking like the most destructive clam predators and their ability to eat more than 15 clams per day and exceed densities of over 24,700 per hectare was having devastating impacts on landings (Newell & Hidu, 1986). In 1947 the average annual sea surface temperature in Boothbay, Maine was 9.2 degrees Celsius, which was the highest it had been in over 15 years (DMR, 2013c). In 1948 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was authorized by congress to determine the reasons for the decline in the soft shell clam resource. Scientific records and interviews with fisherman indicated a northeastward spread of green crabs through the 1940’s and 1950’s which was directly accompanied by a decrease in clam production. They concluded that the correlation between green crab abundance and clam scarcity was enough to accept predation as the primary cause of the decline (Glude, 1955).

Further research followed the work done by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and resulted in a report produced by fishery biologist Walter Welch. From 1953-1967 crab populations were sampled using a standardized trapping method in order to detect major changes in crab populations. Welch and his team concluded that mass mortalities of crabs were observed after severe winters and that wide spread increases and decreases in abundance are directly associated with long-term warming and cooling trends (Welch, 1968). The cooling trend which occurred during the mid-late 1960’s saved the clam industry for a short time and allowed landings to bounce back significantly in the 1970’s. As the resource started to rebound many forgot how destructive the crabs could be. People like Dana Wallace, who worked at DMR in the 1960’s, helped develop effective fencing strategies that would allow towns to better protect their clams from the crabs. There was even a bill passed allowing DMR to help towns financially in fence building. A few towns took advantage, but when the resource started to come back the fences were all but forgotten. Wallace warned that a warming trend would likely force the state to face a serious crab problem again and that clam flats in any town management program should be under scrutiny at all times (Wallace, 2000). Today, evidence is beginning to suggest that the growing green crab population is larger than what it was in the 1950’s (Couture, pers. comm., 2014).

Not only are soft-shell clam populations currently hovering at very low levels, eelgrass beds have also experienced significant declines in recent years (Neckles, pers. comm., 2014). The functions eelgrass provides are important for maintaining healthy coastal ecosystems which explains why it is protected under the Clean Water Act (Davis et al., 1998). Maquoit Bay in Brunswick Maine, which contained 567 hectares of eelgrass in 2001, was reduced to 96 hectares in 2013. This 83% decrease in eelgrass was attributed to green crab activity (Neckles, 2014). Maquoit Bay’s intertidal mudflats and eelgrass beds traditionally supported rare animals, fish, invertebrates, water fowl, wading birds, and other wildlife including commercially valuable species (MCP, 2014b). Today, it is rare to see a lobster trap in Maquoit even though it was not long ago that it used to be a rich fishing ground. Loss of eelgrass beds due to green crab foraging is significant because eelgrass beds play such an important ecological role in the intertidal zone. Seagrasses enhance nutrient cycling, water quality, and sediment dynamics while also providing food and refuge for many commercial species (Seitz et al., 2013). Eelgrass, is also one of the most productive plant communities in the world and serves as a valuable carbon sink. The productivity of eelgrasses is exported directly through waves and currents to fuel offshore habitats and food webs (Neckles, pers. comm., 2014).

Current Management and Conservation

Sea surface temperatures, which peaked in 2006 with an annual average of 12.5 degrees C, have remained consistently high in recent years. From 2002 to 2012 the average annual temperature was 10.4 degrees C, 0.7 degrees higher than what it was in the 1950’s when the last time thorough documentation acknowledged a green crab population explosion (DMR, 2013c). Green crab populations have once again exploded along the coast of Maine and current management strategies have been struggling to adapt. Conversations about green crabs in Maine were initiated by Freeport clam digger and president of the Maine Clammers Association, Chad Coffin, who has taken time away from his profession in recent years to focus on research. Coffin was acknowledged by DMR for his efforts to raise awareness after a state wide trapping survey in 2013 concluded that green crabs were present in every location sampled along the coast (DMR, 2013b). Outcry from fisherman like Coffin caused DMR and the Maine Sea Grant to organize a green crab summit in 2013 which brought together stakeholders from all over North America. The summit was useful in raising awareness about the issue, but at this point it does not appear that any major policy changes have been made as a result. In order to see an example of a successful ongoing management strategy that deals with green crabs we must look north to Nova Scotia. We must also look within the state of Maine at the towns of Freeport and Brunswick where historic research on green crabs has been taking place thanks to collaboration between fisherman and scientists.

Efforts to address the green crab problem have been ongoing in Kejimkujik National Park since 2008. Studies showed the green crab to be an ecosystem engineer, having significant impacts on local populations of soft-shell clams, blue mussels, and eelgrass (Canada, 2012). In 2007 eelgrass was down to 1.3% of its 1987 size. Soft shell clam populations had also declined dramatically. Small clams used to outnumber large clams by 10,000 to one, but in 2007 it was discovered that there were more big clams than small clams. Water quality had also suffered and no lobsters or eels were using the estuary anymore (Moase, 2013). A project was thus decided on in 2010 which had two components, cull green crabs and replant eelgrass. Since 2010, close to one million crabs have been removed from Little Port Joli Estuary and were either sold or composted. More effective fishing techniques have also been developed over time, causing the average catch per unit effort in Basin Lake to decrease by over 85% since the start of the project. In just two years, through targeted trapping and eelgrass transplant, eelgrass is back up to 20% of its 1987 size (Canada, 2012). In neighboring areas, where trapping has not occurred, eelgrass and other native resources remain absent (Moase, 2013). The work being done in Kejimkujik will hopefully encourage resource managers in the state of Maine to adopt similar techniques.

Efforts to address the green crab problem in Maine recently got underway. Research conducted in the town of Freeport in 2013 was municipally funded and its groundbreaking results led to a larger privately funded project which began in 2014. A project in the neighboring town of Brunswick followed the work done in Freeport and also began in 2014. Unlike what is being done in Kejimkujik National Park, research in the two southern Maine towns of Freeport and Brunswick has focused more on collecting data and assessing green crabs impacts rather than on simply culling green crabs. The primary scientists conducting the research in these towns have been Dr. Brian Beal from Jonesport, Maine and Darcie Couture from Brunswick, Maine.

Brian Beal is the Director of Research at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research (DEI) and he splits his time between teaching marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias and conducting research. He obtained his Ph.D. in marine bio-resources from the University of Maine, Orono and is well known throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada for his work with soft-shell clams (Institute, 2014b). In 2013 Beal and his colleagues, including Darcie Couture and 15 commercial clam diggers, used Freeport’s approved town funding to begin a “Shellfish Restoration Project” with the overarching goal being to understand how trapping, fencing, and netting might reduce green crab predation and therefore increase clam survival. In January of 2014 Beal produced a 72 page report describing the results of the field-based study in depth (Beal, 2013). The study did not result in further municipal funding in Freeport, however, it did provide the groundwork necessary to pursue more substantial private funding. With lessons learned about the need for routine monitoring, maintenance of field plots, and the hiring of skilled labor, Dr. Beal and the DEI devised a six-pronged project to further investigate green crabs in Freeport. In 2014 the project received a total of $567,767 in grant funding from three different sources; the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Sea Pact (Institute, 2014a). Beal has not yet published his findings from 2014 because of the vast quantity of data; however, we were able to glean some valuable information about his work after a thorough phone interview with him. We summarize the conversation below.

Born and raised in Downeast Maine, Beal has spent much of his life in and around the intertidal zone. He has noticed many changes over the years, but the one that stands out to him most involves soft shell clams. In the past 30 years Beal has noticed a gradual decline in clam seed from the mid and low intertidal areas. All along the coast Beal has observed that green crabs eat their way through the resource starting at the edge of the channels and moving towards the high water mark. Beal’s understanding of green crab habits and his close connection with clam harvesters themselves have spurred his research in recent years. Two of the most important initial findings Beal shared with us from the summer of 2014 had to do with the trapping and protective netting sections of the Freeport project. From the trapping section, Beal discovered that a few of the green crabs caught and sent to a lab for gut content analysis had been eating lobster. From the netting section of the experiment, Beal and his team collected 1,882 coffee can sized cores of mud from inside and outside of netted areas. In just one of the protected cores of mud Beal counted over a thousand wild baby clams and in an unprotected core taken just a few feet away from the protected one, only two clams were counted. This is a concerning discovery because since the 1960’s many municipal shellfish programs have given conservation points to harvesters for spreading unprotected clam seed on their mud flats. Beal relies on outside funding to conduct his research, but he hopes that money from soft shell license fees will someday go to research so that the industry can be better protected and managed (Beal, pers. comm., 2014).

Darcie Couture began green crab research in Freeport in 2013 alongside Dr. Beal. Couture founded the LLC Resource Access International (RAI) after working for the DMR and has committed herself and her company to promoting sustainability in the seafood industry (RAI, 2014b). RAI worked closely with Beal and the Freeport community, but recently received grant funding to begin a project in the neighboring town of Brunswick. RAI received funding from the Maine Coastal Program, the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, and the New Meadows Watershed Partnership. The new project is titled “Fighting for our Coastal Habitat: A Community Project to Remove Invasive European Green Crabs from Two Coves in Brunswick, Maine.” Couture’s work in Brunswick, which began in the summer of 2014, involves the trapping of green crabs and has allowed for partnership with the municipal government, private sector scientists, commercial shellfish harvesters, and local students (RAI, 2014a). Couture has not published her data from the summer of 2014, but we conducted a phone interview with her as well to discuss some of her findings which we outline below.

The major point Couture made about her research is that she and her colleagues have been seeing green crab numbers in excess of what was cited in the 1968 Welch paper. In Freeport, Couture did not see a drop in green crab numbers from late May to early November of 2013 and a total of 13,000 pounds of green crabs were landed during this time. The following winter of 2013-14 was considered an abnormally cold one and yet when Couture’s new team began trapping in Brunswick, green crab numbers were still considerably high. Trapping occurred off of Snow Island in Brunswick and 100 traps were hauled twice per week in 20-50 feet of water. From mid June through November Couture stated that they consistently landed over 2,000 pounds per month without a drop in catch. It is important to note that trapping stopped voluntarily in November and was not influenced by a decrease in numbers. Couture will continue her work in Brunswick in the hopes that it will lead to a better understanding about the impacts green crabs have in Maine (Couture, pers. comm., 2014)

Commentary of a Clam Digger 2.0

The story that needs to be told most is not available in a book or a peer reviewed journal, it is the story of the people who have seen firsthand the resource they depend on most disappear. Scientists struggling with the green crab invasion in the 1950’s and 1960’s relied heavily on the observations of experienced fisherman like Franklin Goucher (Welch, 1968).  The opportunity to learn from fisherman still remains today, which is why we interviewed two commercial clammers who have a combined 64 years of experience between them.

In 1951 Franklin Goucher had been digging clams in Essex Massachusetts for 23 years…It is currently 2014 and Chad Coffin has been digging clams in Freeport Maine for 24 years. Coffin and fellow Freeport clammer Clint Goodenow, who has been digging clams for 40 years, have noticed changes in the intertidal zone caused by green crabs which are nearly identical to the changes observed by Goucher over 60 years ago. These changes have seriously impacted the livelihoods of Maine clammers, which is why Coffin and Goodenow have dedicated countless hours in recent years to raising awareness about green crabs and the impacts they have on native resources. According to both Coffin and Goodenow, it was only about three years ago that they started to understand how much green crabs have been responsible for the changes they have been seeing over time. Working with scientists like Dr. Beal and picking up terms like “trophic cascade” and “shifting baseline syndrome” have helped them better articulate and understand what has happened.

When Coffin first started digging clams he remembers how much he enjoyed digging around the islands. There were huge clams out there and it didn’t take nearly as many to make a bushel, or 50 pounds worth. By the mid to late 1990’s all the clams around the islands, even the big ones, had disappeared. Coffin has since learned that larger green crabs retreat to the deeper water in the winter where they are not killed by the ice that forms in the intertidal areas. This means that when the green crabs wake up in the spring they eat the resources that are closest to them. After consuming everything around the islands, green crabs moved into the estuaries. The upper estuaries are the farthest away from the deep water and are therefore the last places with any substantial soft clam populations today. According to coffin the length and severity of a given winter determines just how far into the estuaries green crabs will go. Mild winters allow green crabs to wake up earlier, travel farther, and consume more. Often blamed on over harvest, Coffin and others also blame green crabs for the loss of the wild blue mussel resource in Maine. The last of the hundreds of acres of intertidal mussels disappeared from Freeport between 2000 and 2005 and all that’s left today are long stretches of empty shells piled on the mud flats. Mussels disappeared in the same fashion as the clams, with the outside areas disappearing first and the upper intertidal areas disappearing last. The final observation made by Coffin and Goodenow was about the loss of eelgrass. Subtidal eelgrass beds in Freeport disappeared first and in most recent years intertidal eelgrass beds have been decimated as well. Freeport’s coastal ecosystem has been tipped by green crabs and there is the fear that it will not return to its pristine state (Coffin and Goodenow, pers. comm., 2014).

Offshore Wildlife

The offshore habitat provides an important linkage between the three marine habitats in Maine. In addition to serving as the primary home to many species, the offshore habitat is also a crucial nursery habitat. Fish, mammals, algae, crustaceans, and mollusks all spend time in the offshore zone during their lifecycle (GOMCME, 2010). To better understand offshore wildlife in Maine, we choose one species to analyze in depth. We chose Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) to be the indicator species, because they are a keystone species whose health impacts the entire marine ecosystem.


Atlantic herring are small fish that occupy the waters from Labrador, Canada to North Carolina. They occur in large schools and primarily feed on plankton. As adults, they range in size from about 10 to 15 inches in length (ASMFC, 2014b). Herring spawn from August to November depending on location and water temperatures, with many of their key spawning grounds in the Gulf of Maine (ASMFC, 2014b). The eggs herring produce during spawning are not protected or buried, leaving them susceptible to prey (Richardson, Hare, Fogarty, & Link, 2011). Many of the herring’s major spawning grounds are in the Gulf of Maine and George’s Bank before they migrate south for the winter (ASMFC, 2014b).

Herring comprise 70% of the bait used in Maine’s iconic lobster industry (Grabowski et al., 2010). When a herring shortage occurs, lobster fishermen and woman must use outsourced frozen bait from across the US and the world. This outsourcing of bait is much more expensive and drives up operating costs for lobstermen (Mesko, pers. comm., 2014). Herring are also a source of food for many other Maine species including seabirds and tuna (Sherwood, pers. comm., 2014). Thus the health of the Atlantic herring population has a direct effect on the offshore habitat, leading to herring being regarded as a keystone fishery and species in Maine.

The herring industry also employs a large number of people. From fishermen to processors and transportation specialists multiple groups of people depend on herring for their livelihoods (Sherwood, pers. comm., 2014).

The herring fishery began in the 19th century primarily as a result of the canning industry (ASMFC, 2014a). The canning industry began in 1875 with one cannery, but by 1908, 33 canneries existed in Maine (Penobscot Marine Museum, 2012). Sardines were caught, canned, and distributed to grocery stores throughout the US. Around the same time, the lobster industry began to develop. This created a market for herring as bait for lobster. Herring were then fished fairly sustainably until improvements in technology in the middle of the 20th century (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, 2014a; Maine Department of Marine Resources, 2014). The increase in technology led to periods of excess harvest followed by a collapse in the 1980s (Penobscot Marine Museum, 2012). As management improved stock levels slowly began to return throughout the 1990s up to today (ASMFC, 2014a).

Harvesting Methods

Herring are commercially harvested using three primary methods. These methods are:

(1) Trawls (bottom and mid-water): a large mesh net is towed behind a boat designed to capture and contain the targeted fish species (NOAA Fisheries, 2014).While extremely popular, this method is also controversial, because it disrupts and separates the school of herring (Sherwood, pers. comm., 2014).

(2) Purse Seines: After locating a school of fish, a small boat circles and employs the purse seine in a circle. The seine has floats on the top and a string of lead weights on the bottom. Then the line of lead weights is pulled in closing the next at the bottom and preventing any fish from escaping (NOAA Fisheries, 2014).

(3) Weirs: are physically built structures, often in shallower waters, that guide schools of herring into a circular shaped fenced off area. Once inside, the herring swim in circles and cannot escape (GMRI, 2014). Since most of the herring fishery has moved offshore, weirs are not effectively used in Maine to capture herring. The collapse of the weir fishery coincided with the collapse in the canning industry (Sherwood, pers. comm., 2014).

In 2010, the most common method for harvesting herring in Maine and across the U.S. were trawls followed by purse seines (NOAA Fisheries, 2014).

Current Management and Conservation

Herring currently are managed as one stock from Maine all the way down to North Carolina (NEFMC, 1999). Herring are managed by two groups: the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC). The ASMFC governs state waters (zero to three nautical miles from shore) while the NEFMC governs the federal waters (three to two-hundred nautical miles from shore) as mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act (NEFMC, 1999). Management practices between these two groups can differ. For example, the ASMFC plan includes spawning closures and occasionally daily catch limits, while the NEFMC prohibits mid water trawling in federal waters from June 1st to September 30th (ASMFC, 2014a). In addition, the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires the NEFMC to create a management plan for herring. This plan was created in June of 1988 and finalized in March of 1999 by the NEFMC in consultation with the ASMFC (NEFMC, 1999).

The plan has three specific goals. First, “to achieve, on a continuing basis, optimum yield (OY) for the United States fishing industry and to prevent overfishing of the Atlantic sea herring resource” (NEFMC, 1999). Optimum yield is defined in the report as, “the amount of fish that will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly in respect to food production and recreation opportunities, taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems…” (NEFMC, 1999). Second, the plan seeks to create a stable development of the inshore and offshore fishery (NEFMC, 1999). Finally, it aims at providing fishermen with “orderly opportunities” (NEFMC, 1999). These goals, although set over a decade ago, still hold true today.

Figure 4.3 Map of Herring Management Areas in New England (NOAA, 2014)

Figure 4.4 Map of herring management areas in New England (NOAA, 2014).

After establishing these goals, the FMP also divided the single stock into four management areas (Figure 4.4). The first region is the Gulf of Maine, which is then broken down into two management areas. Management area 1A is the inshore while 1B is the offshore. Next, management area 2, the south coastal area, includes state and federal waters from Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Finally, management area 3 is simply George’s Bank (NEFMC, 1999). Each management area has total allowable catch levels (TACs) (NEFMC, 2010). These TACs cannot exceed the optimum yield and are determined on an annual basis from January to December (NEFMC, 2010). These TACs are determined by several different factors and account for the seasonal migration of herring throughout the three zones (NEFMC, 2010).

Changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006 required updating the Fisheries Management Plan for herring by 2011 (NEFMC, 2010). These updates required the whole stock of herring to be managed based on allowable catch levels (ACL). These ACLs are set based on acceptable biological catch (ABC) (NEFMC, 2010). Unlike TACs, which are solely based on previous catch data, ACLs include room for uncertainty (NEFMC, 2010). For the 2013-2015 seasons the ASMFC set the ACL for all four zones at 237.7 million pounds (ASMFC, 2014a). The herring fishery will close each year when 92% of the quota for the particular season has been harvested. Then after the final landings data for the year has been published, up to 10% of the unused quota for the year can spill over into the following year (ASMFC, 2014a). Lastly, optimum yields are still determined for herring but they must be lower than the ABC (NEFMC, 2010).

In addition, NGOs are helping improve management. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) is currently conducting research on the status of the inshore herring fishery in Maine. The study places an echosounder, computer, and monitor on ten lobster boats in Maine (GMRI, 2012; Sherwood, pers. comm., 2014). The echosounder is placed underneath the lobster boat and uses frequencies to generate an image on the ocean floor. Further, the echosounder can identify certain fish species based on the eco signature they generate (GMRI, 2012). Through this research, GMRI hopes to better understand herring populations and spawning patterns and use their findings to assist policy makers (Sherwood, pers. comm., 2014).

Based on the most recent benchmark stock assessment, both the ASMFC and NOAA state that herring are not being overharvested in the Gulf of Maine (ASMFC, 2014a; NOAA Fisheries, 2014). Although some lobstermen have experienced shortages in herring bait, most have had an ample supply (Mesko, pers. comm,., 2014). In addition, the landings data from DMR in Figure 4.5 shows an increase in the landings of herring since 2010 (DMR, 2014). Scientists, particularly those with a keen interest in the state of the ecosystem, such as the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, also believe that herring are in a relatively stable state, but must continue to be strictly managed and monitored (Sherwood, pers com., 2014).

Figure 4.6 Historical landing and price data for Atlantic herring in Maine (MDMR, 2014)

Figure 4.5 Historical landing and price data for Atlantic herring in Maine (MDMR, 2014).

If herring populations declined again in the future, Maine’s lobster industry will be significantly affected. Lobstermen will be forced to rely on foreign sources of bait, thus driving up their production costs (Mesko, pers. comm., 2014). In addition, using lobster as bait has helped increase the size of lobster (Grabowski et al., 2010). Juvenile lobster, who are thrown back into the ocean, or lobster who escape from the traps benefit from eating the herring bait (Grabowski et al., 2010).  Therefore the use of alternative sources of bait will also affect the overall health of lobsters. Other species, such as haddock who prey on herring eggs, will also be affected by decreasing herring populations (Richardson et al., 2011).

Finally, climate change is a direct threat to herring populations. As temperatures warm, herring will be forced to relocate into new areas in the north. While there currently appears to be large amounts of suitable habitat for herring, herring larvae are at risk from increasing water temperatures (Petitgas et al., 2013). In addition, warming water temperatures have also been associated with declines in the size of herring, although it is not clear how these declines will affect herring as a whole (Petitgas et al., 2013). Since herring are a keystone species in Maine any declines they experience will also affect multiple coastal and island wildlife species. These linkages showcase how variable and susceptible Maine’s habitats are to major threats such as coastal development, economic growth, and climate both today and in the future.

Deep-Water Wildlife

Maine’s deep-water habitats comprise at least 20 species of marine mammals and turtles, approximately 40 commonly encountered saltwater fish, and countless populations of microorganisms like plankton (DMR, 2010; Summers, Wippelhauser, Keliher, & Doughty, 2010). Each of these populations depends on deeper waters for some combination of migration, feeding, and breeding. These populations also hold unique and critical roles in maintaining the culture, economy, and daily livelihoods of many coastal Maine residents, along with contributing to the rich biodiversity upon which life cycles within the Atlantic ocean depend (Noonan & Zagata, 1982).

In this section, we examine the historical significance, population trends, major threats, and current management plans of two deep-water species: the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the Western North Atlantic stock of the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina). We chose to use these as indicator species of the status of other deep-water wildlife because of their rich histories of exploitation paired with the risks they face today. We understand that the status of Maine’s deep-water wildlife cannot be sufficiently assessed using these species alone; however, their stories can serve as important indications of the economic importance, threats, and management efforts surrounding other deep-water animals.

Right Whales and Harbor Seals

While right whales and harbor seals share similar historical narratives of exploitation, their fates unfortunately diverged in the 20th century after the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) outlawed the hunting of both species (16 USC § 1361-1423). Harbor seals rebounded relatively quickly, and as of April, 2014, their stock was estimated to be 70,142 in the Eastern Canadian Arctic and Greenland south to southern New England and New York (NMFS, 2014a). Conversely, right whale numbers continued to plummet and today the species is deemed one of the most critically endangered large whales in the world, fighting against extinction with what NOAA and other experts report to be fewer than 500 of them alive today between Canada and Florida (Firestone, 2014b; NMFS, 2013, 2014a, 2014b). However, the biggest threats facing the right whale remain very similar to those of the harbor seal and other deep-water animals but are on different scales of intensity.

Along with other marine mammals in Maine’s deeper waters, right whales and harbor seals are vulnerable to pollution, climate change, noise, ship strikes, and, most troublingly, entanglement from fishing gear. The ‘industrial obstacle course’ that exists along Maine’s coast, and extends along the entire east coasts of Canada and the US, has become a concern to scientists, conservation groups, and fishing industries alike (Schweitzer, 2014).

NOAA’s most recent stock assessment reports published in April of 2014, using data collected for the period 2007-2011, declared that the minimum rate of annual human-caused mortality and serious injury for harbor seals was 409 and for right whales was 4.05 (NMFS, 2013). These numbers become relevant when compared to the potential biological removal (PBR) rate —defined as the number of species that can be removed from a population above natural mortality in order for it to reach its optimum sustained population. While the PBR of harbor seals is 1,662 individuals per year, the PBR of right whales is 0.9 individuals per year (NMFS, 2013, 2014a, 2014b). These numbers not only illustrate the severity of human activity’s effects on population trends but also demonstrate the variety of dimensions that need to be recognized when dealing with open-water species. While some species are abundant enough to withstand such pressure from human activity, others require more intervention to reduce mortality pressure.

Harbor Seals

Harbor seals are known as one of Maine’s most abundant and widely distributed marine mammals. These generally non-migratory animals inhabit temperate coastal habitats on the east and west coasts of the US (Gilbert, Waring, Wynne, & Guldager, 2006; NMFS, 2014a). They are year-round inhabitants of the coastal waters of Maine and eastern Canada and live seasonally along the New England, New York, and New Jersey coastline between September and May (Gilbert et al., 2006; NMFS, 2014a). They grow to approximately six feet (two meters) in length and weigh about 245 pounds (110 kilograms) (NOAA Fisheries, 2014b). Harbor seals are opportunistic predators, eating a large variety of fish and crustaceans, which can make them susceptible to frequent interactions with fisheries (Gilbert, pers. comm., 2014). While historically harbor seals were exploited for meat and pelts, the biggest threats facing this species today include ship strikes, gear entanglement or ‘ghost fishing,’ incidental capture by fisheries, deliberate capture for illegal trade, and human harassment (Gilbert, pers. comm., 2014).

Between the late 19th and mid-20th century, Maine and Massachusetts paid bounties to destroy these abundant, nuisance seals (Lelli, David E, & Aboueissa, 2009). Maine bounty laws were active from 1891 to 1905 and from 1937 to 1945 (Lelli et al., 2009). By 1872, small regions in Maine recognized the need to protect these animals, but it wasn’t until a century later that the MMPA made the taking of marine mammals illegal across the nation (Lelli et al., 2009; Lelli & Harris, 2006).

The complex relationship that exists between harbor seals and humans is largely due to the polarity of fishery and conservation group perspectives. Fishermen see seals and other marine mammals as a nuisance: they become bycatch in their nets, they scare away fish, they occasionally prey on valuable stocks, and they require expensive gear regulations and inconvenient shipping lanes (Mesko, pers. comm., 2014). Conversely, conservation groups recognize the threats humans’ recreational and fishing practices pose to these vulnerable animals and work to further strengthen protection efforts (Cleaver, pers. comm.,2014). Some of the earliest conservation efforts protecting seals were occurring nearly simultaneously with the earliest programs for controlling and reducing seal populations in the Gulf of Maine (Nichols et al., 2011).

Current Management and Conservation

According to NOAA, harbor seals are the most abundant, large predator in the Northeast continental shelf marine ecosystem. In New England, harbor seals can be recognized as significant predators of economically valuable fish, but they in fact prey primarily on commercially irrelevant stocks (Gilbert, pers. comm., 2014). Based on analysis of scat collected on beaches and stomach contents, harbor seals prey on 11 of 22 commercial fish species (Williams, 1999). Their diet is primarily comprised of silver hake, Atlantic herring, red or white hake, Atlantic cod, and pollock, all averaging 22 centimeters in length (Williams, 1999). Based on this data, harbor seals are in direct competition with commercial fishermen less frequently than perceived (Williams, 1999).

Harbor seals are not listed as threatened or vulnerable under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but their populations face major threats in human sources of mortality such as ship strikes, fishing gear entanglement, oil spills and onshore-based pollution, and even gunshots (primarily in Canada). In 1972, the MMPA and its subsequent amendments made it illegal to hunt, capture, harass, or kill harbor seals and all other marine mammals in the US (16 USC § 1371). Since New England seal bounties ended in 1945 and the MMPA was passed, the number of seals has increased nine-fold in the Gulf of Maine (Waring, 2006). Harbor seal stocks of the Northeastern US observed during pupping season increased from 10,500 individuals in 1981 to 38,000 individuals in 2001 (Waring, Gilbert, Belden, Atten, & DiGiovanni, 2010). This average annual increase of 6.6% has been relatively constant since then and there remains no evidence that the population has stabilized (Waring et al., 2010). This observed growth in harbor seal populations indicates that disease, predation, and offshore-based pollutants, its most natural causes of mortality, have not had significant impacts (Gilbert, pers. comm., 2014). Shark predation has been noted as a natural threat but the significance of this predation as a mortality source has not been documented (NMFS, 2014a).

Human-caused serious injury and mortality are in fact the most prominent threats facing harbor seals today. From 2007-2011, 1,272 harbor seal stranding mortalities were reported between Maine and Florida (NMFS, 2014a). Maine has the highest number of reported strandings (573 seals) amongst all coastal New England states (NMFS, 2014a) (Figure 4.6). Approximately 6% of the dead harbor seals stranded in this five year period had indications of human interaction, with almost 1.5% showing scars from fishery interaction and four individuals having gun shot wounds, according to the Northeast Regional Office of Marine Mammal Stranding Network database (NMFS, 2014a). An unknown number of seals were also killed in the aquaculture industry (i.e. salmon farming) by being trapped in gear and shot by fishermen who can adequately reason that the seals were negatively affecting their practice (NMFS, 2014a). While aquaculture has been recognized in the past as a threat to marine mammals, it is rarely reported by industries today (Waring et al., 2010; Young, pers. comm., 2014).

Figure 4.7 Harbor seal stranding mortality ranked by frequency in each of the five coastal New England states from 2007 to 2011 (NMFS, 2014)

Figure 4.6 Harbor seal stranding mortality ranked by frequency in each of the five coastal New England states from 2007 to 2011 (NMFS, 2014).

In this same time period of 2007-2011, an estimated 409 harbor seals were victims of human caused mortality and serious injury (NMFS, 2014a). This total of 409 can be broken down into fishery-related incidences (397 incidences) and non-fishery related, human interaction stranding mortalities (12 incidences) (NMFS, 2014a). The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has since changed its definition of serious injury to “injury that is more likely than not to result in mortality” and assessments revised in 2013 or later use this new guideline (NMFS, 2014a). The Northeast sink gillnet fishery had significantly higher serious injury and mortality incidences than any other fishery, totaling 346 out of the total 397 fishery-related incidences (NMFS, 2014a) (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.8 Summary of incidental mortality of harbor seals by commercial fisheries. Indicate the threat posed by large fisheries like the Northeast sink and Mid-Atlantic gillnet fisheries to marine mammals in the deep zone (NMFS, 2014)

Figure 4.7 Summary of incidental mortality of harbor seals by commercial fisheries. Indicate the threat posed by large fisheries like the Northeast sink and Mid-Atlantic gillnet fisheries to marine mammals in the deep zone (NMFS, 2014).

Harbor seals have also been subject to infectious disease. In the winter of 1981, necropsies of dead harbor seals showed that many had become vectors for influenza (Gilbert, 2014b). The most recent Unusual Mortality Event was declared in November of 2011 in response to the spreading of an infectious disease that killed 567 harbor seals between June 2011 and October 2012 in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts (NMFS, 2014a). While this is recognized as a threat for harbor seals, experts like James Gilbert of the University of Maine don’t think it needs to be more heavily managed (Gilbert, pers. comm., 2014).

In May and June of 1981, 1986, 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2012, coast-wide aerial surveys were conducted along the Maine coast during pupping season (NMFS, 2014a; Waring et al., 2010). The population in 2012 was approximately 29% lower than the 2001 estimate, which was almost 29% higher than the population in 1997 (NMFS, 2014a). This suggests that the population dropped significantly in 15 years. While these population estimates may not be completely accurate due to outdated tagging methods and tracking difficulty, the general trend still indicates the possibility of a declining population. Other factors contributing to this population drop include: (1) Estimated counts of seals out of the water in 2012 as opposed to exact counts of seals out of water in 2001, (2) a different correction value was used in 2001 than in 2012 (2.54 and 2.27, respectively), (3) part of the population was not sampled during the survey, and, (4) the population is in fact declining (NMFS, 2014a). This research illustrates two major concerns regarding harbor seal populations: more accurate and frequent population estimates need to be done using reliable technology and, if populations are in fact no longer growing, the factors contributing to this downfall must be defined and addressed (Nichols et al., 2011). Without recent and accurate population data, it is difficult to move forward with policy recommendations, as the development of important conclusions, like current population trends and current and maximum net productivity rates, is restricted (Nichols et al., 2011).

In October of 2011, a variety of harbor seal researchers and conservationists came together at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies to express concerns regarding the lack of funding and low prioritization of seal data collection (Nichols et al., 2011). Without better data on the population size, location, and behavior of the harbor seal, they believed it was difficult to come up with productive policymaking decisions (Nichols et al., 2011). Even fishermen are frustrated by the lack of data that exists regarding harbor seals and other pinniped species. During this meeting, Cape Cod fishermen expressed their concerns regarding the relationship between their work and the well being of these animals. Without sufficient communication between conservation groups, scientists, fishermen, and policymakers, it is difficult for these groups to make decisions regarding gear modifications and depredation reduction solutions (Nichols et al., 2011)

While harbor seals are not at imminent risk of population depletion, assuming no unforeseen catastrophe, their vulnerability to fishing gear entanglements and fish strikes is still important to recognize, especially when analyzing the status of other marine mammals and deep-water species in Maine.

North Atlantic Right Whale

At 13-16 meters long and weighing up to 70 tons, the North Atlantic right whale has been recognized for centuries as one of the world’s most majestic marine creatures (Schweitzer, 2014). The majority of the Western North Atlantic population range from wintering and calving areas in the Southeastern US to summer feeding and nursery grounds in New England, the Bay of Fundy, and the Scotian Shelf. Its blubber alone is approximately 8 inches thick but can reach up to 24 inches during feeding season (Schweitzer, 2014). This thickness provides enough buoyancy to keep the body floating even after it has died, which makes for easier mortality sightings (Miller et al., 2011). These graceful filter feeders primarily feed on zooplankton (i.e., copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids) by skimming the water surface with open mouths of baleen. Females give birth to their first calf at around ten years old and gestation takes about one year (Firestone, 2014c). These unique characteristics make for a beautiful creature but also pose threats for the animal, hinder recovery efforts, and contributed largely to its heavy exploitation by whaling industries dating back to the 11th century (NOAA Fisheries, 2013a; Schweitzer, 2014).

In the 11th century, Basque fishermen developed whaling techniques that made them some of the world’s first modern whalers and the likely cause of their commercial extinction (Kraus & Rolland, 2007; Rastogi et al., 2004). The right whale was an easy target: a slow swimmer that stays close to the shore with thick, valuable blubber that keeps even its harpooned body afloat (Perry & Demaster, 1999; Schweitzer, 2014). By the start of the 15th century, the Basques began following the migration of these lucrative whales into Iceland and Greenland, and by the mid-16th century they had joined European fleets in Labrador and Newfoundland (Kraus & Rolland, 2007). This dramatically increased their catch and profit, as its valuable blubber oil was becoming a growing commodity.

The biggest boom of the industry came throughout the 1500s, when hundreds of whalers stormed the harbors of Labrador during the summer in search of these whales. Americans eventually joined the hunt in the mid-17th century and contributed to its population plummet over the next two and a half centuries (Kraus & Rolland, 2007; Perry & Demaster, 1999). By 1700, the right whale was so endangered that it quickly became economically irrelevant to pursue for many countries (Kraus & Rolland, 2007; Perry & Demaster, 1999). Some whalers continued to hunt throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but by the early-20th century, the population was so depleted that both the League of Nations (in 1935) and the International Whaling Commission (in 1949) banned all whaling of right whales (United States Court of Appeals, 2008). While this effort helped to support this vulnerable species, scientists continue to be concerned that it may never fully recover.

Current Management and Conservation

The North Atlantic right whale has been listed as ‘Endangered’ since 1986 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is listed in Appendix I by both the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) (CITES, 2013; Reilly et al., 2012). Appendix I listing indicates that the species is considered to be among the most vulnerable species listed: it is threatened with extinction and cannot be commercially traded (CITES, 2013). The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) along with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) also refer to it as “critically endangered” and “functionally extinct” (Silber et al., 2012). The basic causes for these listings, aside from historical exploitation, are primarily rooted in human activities such as ship strikes and gear entanglement.

Right whales continue to be deeply threatened by entanglements in fishing gear and their estimated annual growth rate of approximately 2.8% makes every entanglement one of concern to the species’ survival (NMFS, 2014b). While the right whale population is growing, the lethal entanglement rate is growing much faster. Between 2006 and 2010 there were 55 total incidences of right whale injuries and mortalities related to entanglements, vessel strikes, and natural and unknown causes, of which 19 were deaths (Henry et/ al., 2012) (Table 4.3). Between 1980 and 2009, 519 of 626 (82.9%) right whales observed displayed signs of at least one gear entanglement instance and 306 of those 519 (59%) had been entangled more than once (Knowlton, Hamilton, Marx, Pettis, & Kraus, 2012).

Table 4.3 Summary of human incidences affecting the North Atlantic right whale between 2006 and 2010. These incidences are primarily dominated by entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes (Henry et al., 2012)

*Includes North Atlantic right whale, Gulf of Maine humpback whale, Western North Atlantic blue whale, Canadian East Coast minke whale, unidentified fin/sei whale, unidentified balaenopterid, and other unidentified whale species

**Includes entanglements, vessel strikes, natural causes, and unconfirmed reason for fate. Does not include entrapments and excludes resights of previously reported individuals unless a new injury was documented

***Covers all whales killed with insufficient information to determine cause of death or if the injury was serious and likely lethal

StockTotal events** (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)Total confirmed mortalitiesConfirmed entanglement mortalitiesConfirmed vessel strike mortalitiesConfirmed mortalities, NOT vessel strike or entanglementConfirmed mortalities***
North Atlantic Right Whale55 (12, 6, 14, 15, 8)19 (6, 3, 3, 4, 3)4 (1, 1, 0, 0, 2)9 (4, 0, 0, 0, 1)5 (0, 1, 3, 1, 0)5 (1, 1, 0, 3, 0)
All Western North Atlantic Whales Combined*498311242715245


Lobster pots and traps are recognized as being the most threatening gear to right whales followed by gillnet fisheries (NMFS, 2014b). Michael Moore, a right whale researcher from the Woods Hole Institute worries about the future of whales with the growth of fisheries. His perception is that every time a lobster or gillnet permit is issued, another whale will be entangled and killed by rope (Schweitzer, 2014). The whales are startled when they swim into these vertical lines and lack the maneuverability to easily escape (Schweitzer, 2014). Few animals can free themselves quickly and some are too entangled to make it to the surface so drown. Many whales can swim with these entanglements, but with the ropes tied so tightly around their heads and fins and wedged between their jaws, they most likely die after five months (Schweitzer, 2014). These slow deaths of these entangled animals is a troubling problem—some are found with polypropylene ropes wrapped so tightly around their limbs that their bones are nearly cut in half. Others are found with lice infestations, decaying flesh, shark bites, and little energy after being unable to eat for so long (Schweitzer, 2014; Young, pers. comm., 2014).

By virtue of the ESA and section 118 of the MMPA, NMFS is obligated to develop and enforce regulations requiring modifications to fishing gear and restrictions on several types of gear in regions and seasons known for higher occurrence of right whales (Monsell, Uhlemann, Young, Weaver, & Asmutis-Silvia, 2012). However, these regulations have been slow to develop and entanglements continue to be the biggest reason for serious injury and mortality (Young, pers. comm., 2014). Between 2007 and 2011, the minimum rate of annual human-caused mortality and serious injury to right whales averaged 3.25 per year from incidental fishery entanglement, accounting for over 80% of annual mortalities and serious injuries (NMFS, 2014b). Even more concerning is Maine’s resistance to implement acoustic detection devices or require distinct gear markings to help researchers and right whale protection groups identify the origin and depth of fishing gear after it has caused serious injury or death to a whale (Young, pers. comm., 2014). Critical habitat area is also absent in Maine, despite NMFS data supporting its establishment, as there is pushback from policymakers to further regulate lucrative fishery industries and high-traffic shipping lanes (Young, pers. comm., 2014).

Many Mainers fail to even realize these animals are present and vulnerable in the Gulf of Maine, and lobstermen remain frustrated that data regarding their entanglements and whereabouts is lacking (McCarron, 2013). A study tracking right whales from 1997 to 2005 found that 3 out of 8 (37%) of all reported large whale entanglements were accounted for by Maine lobster gear, which makes it the largest source of gear entanglement for cases in which the origin of the gear can be determined, according to the 2007 NMFS Gear Analysis (Young, pers. comm., 2014). According to Sharon Young, the Marine Issues Field Director at the US Humane Society (USHS), “We are killing them faster than any natural disaster could” (Young, pers. comm., 2014).

In 2009, NMFS began teaming up with fishermen, conservationists, state managers, scientists, and gear experts to establish the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (NMFS, 2014b). This effort was intended to reduce the level of serious injury and mortality of the North Atlantic right, humpback, and fin whales (50 CFR § 229). The Plan is supposed to incorporate a combination of broad-based gear modifications, time-area closures, disentanglement measures, research, and outreach. However, since its development, large whales continue to be frequently injured or killed by the dangerous vertical lines in lobster trap/pot and gillnet gear, suggesting that further and continuing modifications are necessary (T. Johnson, 2005; Monsell et al., 2012).

The Reduction Plan in Maine

As the NMFS developed these new rules to reduce gear entanglements, an Environmental Impact Statement was required to be prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act. This was prepared by NMFS and NOAA, its parent agency, and involved numerous studies and 16 public hearings in the Northeast (50 CFR § 229). At the public hearings, interest groups, which included many commercial fishermen associations as well as conservative groups, provided valuable input on how the rules should be modified. The Maine Lobstermen Association, the Maine Fishermen’s Association, and others provided comments on practical changes as well as the economic and social impacts that the rules would have on the industry (McCarron, 2013; NOAA Fisheries, 2014d).

This included the following proposed amendments, which were ultimately included in a Final Rule, issued in June of 2014: (1) Vertical gear line limitations will be imposed, but have been reduced to recognize the rocky bottom characteristics of the Coast of Maine as opposed to the soft sandy bottom of Cape Cod Bay, (2) protected areas along the Coast of Maine will be reduced, from three to one, since few sightings have occurred in these areas in which 80% of Maine’s lobster industry works, (3) traps per line minimum restrictions have been put in place but reduced from three to two, since this unfairly affects the smaller operators, (4) regulations have been eliminated that are more likely to require additional employees, such as sternman and gear modification workers, (5) gear is now required to be brought back to shore daily in many locations, but not Maine, since that requirement is impractical for smaller boats, (6) breaking strength equipment requirements have been put in place but in federal waters only and not for Maine, and, (7) implementation is phased-in to allow fishermen time to comply (50 CFR § 229).

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association also voluntarily partnered with research organizations, such as the New England Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to better educate fishermen on required procedures and provide updated statistics and feedback on practical impacts. As the NMFS pointed out in its Final Environmental Impact Statement, industry group input was extremely important because complying with certain requirements often imposes additional costs and produces adverse effects on revenues (McCarron, 2013; NOAA Fisheries, 2014c). Since these impacts may be large, NOAA foresees some fishermen switching their efforts to other fisheries or stopping fishing entirely (NOAA Fisheries, 2014c). “We wanted to be responsive to what we heard last year, when we originally proposed these measures,” said John Bullard, Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries, “so we made changes to our proposal. We have been able to decrease the number of affected vessels, reduce compliance costs for fishermen, and still reduce the risk of whale entanglements” (NOAA Fisheries, 2014c).

These efforts are extremely important because the survival of North Atlantic right whales depends on a reduction of serious injuries and mortalities. In order for the North Atlantic right whale population to reach its optimum sustained population (OSP), the potential biological removal (PBR) rate, or the maximum number of animals, excluding natural mortalities, that can be removed from its stock, is 0.9 each year (NMFS, 2014b). OSP is defined complexly as a congressional term by the MMPA, but is somewhat analogous to being at the “maximum net productivity level,” just before a species reaches its carrying capacity (NMFS, 2014b; Young, pers. comm., 2014). Following this definition, right whales are far from their OSP because of their slow growth rate (2.8%) and critically endangered population size (NMFS, 2014b). Related species like the Southern right whale, for example, are reproducing at approximate rates of 5-7% per year (Young, pers. comm., 2014).

Between 1999 and 2003, the recorded human-caused mortality and serious injury of right whales averaged 2.6 animals per year (1.6 fishing entanglements and 1 ship strike) while between 2004 and 2006 an additional 11 deaths were observed (1 fishing entanglement, 8 ship strikes, and 2 unknown incidents) (NMFS, 2014b). For a species as vulnerable as the North Atlantic right whale, these seemingly low numbers are in fact very concerning (Firestone, 2014a; NMFS, 2014b). According to Michael Moore, saving just two female right whales per year could help stabilize the species’ population (Schweitzer, 2014).

Bringing the Whales to Court

US territorial water marine mammals, including the right whale and harbor seal, are primarily regulated by the ESA and the MMPA. By virtue of those laws and the designation of the right whale as critically endangered, the federal agencies with primary enforcement responsibilities are NOAA, the NMFS, and the US Coast Guard (16 USC § 1531; 16 USC § 1361). As a result, the critical habitat for the right whale was designated by NMFS to include locations ranging from calving areas in the southeastern US coastline near Georgia and Florida, northward to New England waters off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine (NEFSC, 1998). These critical habitat areas include their migratory path and, as such, are areas of importance for the long-term survival and maintenance of the species.

Since these critical habitat areas are dense with fishing fleets and general shipping travel, the NMFS began updating existing rules and programs in the late 2000s, including the Mandatory Shipping Report Scheme and the Right Whale Shipping Strike Reduction Strategy (Silber, Fonnesbeck, & Adams, 2014). These rules required large ships to travel with greater sensitivity to the presence of right whales. When they became effective in 2009, critical habitat areas showed a significant reduction in deaths for right whales being hit by vessels. Before the rule went into effect, 13 right whales died during a two-year period and after the rule went into effect, no deaths were reported (NOAA Fisheries, 2013b). Under the rules, various shipping lanes are designated as high-risk areas and two such areas are located just east of Portland, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire (NOAA Fisheries, 2013b; United States Court of Appeals, 2008).

Various organizations, such as the Defenders of Wildlife and the USHS, have criticized the NMFS and the Coast Guard for their inaction and lack of diligence in enforcing their mandates to protect endangered species. Numerous citizen suits, such as Defenders of Wildlife et. al. v. Gutierrez in 2008, have been filed (McCarron, 2013; United States Court of Appeals, 2008). This has resulted in court orders requiring the agencies to more promptly promulgate and strengthen regulations and policies regarding gear entanglement rules and critical habitat area for right whales. These cases have hastened the issuance of action despite budget cuts and work re-allocations.

One such by-product of these suits is the declaration of a strengthened Right Whale Shipping Strike Reduction Strategy just one year after the Gutierrez decision, and significant improvements to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan in 2014. In their critical habitat suit, USHS was able to obtain a court order mandating new boundaries by February of 2015. If they fail to comply, USHS can hold NMFS in contempt of court (Young, pers. comm., 2014). These court actions are hugely powerful tools without which these rules may have taken many additional years to develop, risking the loss of more right whales.


Coastal and island wildlife in Maine could face a number of different fates. The most significant factors dictating the future of coastal and island wildlife include government funding, human activity, climate change, and coastal development. Based on these factors we present the following scenarios on the future of coastal and island wildlife in Maine.

Fish are Friends and Food!

It is 2025 and Maine’s government, conservation groups, and communities have worked together to increase the quantity and quality of coastal habitat and wildlife conservation. Increased funding and research have allowed conservation initiatives and policies to mitigate the effects of climate change on coastal wildlife. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was able to track Atlantic puffins using miniature GPS tags that allowed them to track where puffins were feeding and protected these vital sources. The USFWS also identified islands along Maine’s coast to protect as Significant Wildlife Habitats and the National Audubon Society has continued Project Puffin on these islands with successful breeding seasons in the past few summers. A market for invasive green crabs was created and fishermen have become invested in catching them. The high demand for green cabs has allowed populations of shellfish along Maine’s coast as well as vital eelgrass to recover from extensive predation. Fisheries scientists have increased the data and their understanding of Atlantic herring, which has allowed the New England Fishery Management Council to adapt appropriate Annual Catch Limits that have kept the Atlantic herring populations stable in the Gulf of Maine. Tagging and tracking of North Atlantic Right Whales has increased and the migration behavior of the whales has become better understood. This new knowledge has informed new gear restrictions and encouraged policy makers to expand critical habitat along Maine’s coast greatly benefitting the vulnerable whales. The coastal zone continues to contribute greatly to the State’s economy through recreation, tourism and commercial fishing. Maine’s coast is highly treasured by not only the people of Maine and but also the entire United States. It represents the ideal framework by which the rest of the world’s coastal zones should be managed and truly embodies the definition of sustainability.

Just Keep Swimming

It is 2025 and Maine’s coastal and island wildlife are struggling to survive as it gets harder to find food and shelter. Habitats have been substantially degraded and coastal development continues to grow. Warming waters have caused greater numbers of fish species to move to more suitable waters and Atlantic puffins are struggling to find prey. GPS monitoring of Atlantic puffins has yet to be successful which has prevented the USFWS from being able to protect new islands as Significant Wildlife Habitat. There is still no market for green crabs and they continue to have a devastating impact on shellfish in Maine’s intertidal zone. Data and knowledge on Atlantic herring has not increased and Annual Catch Limits are continuously set higher they should be to maintain sustainable populations. Tagging and tracking of North Atlantic Right Whales has not increased and much more knowledge is needed on their migration patterns in order to implement successful gear restrictions and expansion of critical habitat. Establishing effective marine stewardship programs and ecosystem based management techniques have been talked about for years, but the funding and effort is simply not there and the coastal and island wildlife in Maine continue to be extremely vulnerable.

The Drop Off

It is 2025, and Maine’s coastal and island wildlife have suffered greatly in the past few years. The rocky and sandy habitats lining Maine’s historically thriving coast are suffocated by empty seashells, trash, and human waste that have been slowly softened with time by thrashing winds and crashing waves. Policy initiatives have been unable to keep up with the effects of warming waters in the Gulf of Maine and currently only one Atlantic puffin colony survives. Green crabs have continued to prey on shellfish in the intertidal zone at an alarming rate and Maine’s shellfish industry is on the brink of collapse. Atlantic herring suffered from increased Annual Catch Limits and the fishery continues to be overfished. North Atlantic Right Whales are still critically endangered and policymakers have failed to pay much attention to the dying whale species. The coastal zone of Maine that was once one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world has fallen victim the changing climate.


In conclusion, we determine that puffins are currently in a stable state and are well managed. Green crabs are invasive and require strengthened regulations. Herring are also relatively stable and well managed. Finally, right whales are critically endangered and require expanded critical habitat area, while harbor seal populations are sufficiently protected.

We found that breeding success puffins on Seal Island during the summer of 2012 decreased by 46% and that only 10% of breeding pairs on Meniticus Rock and Seal Island successful reared a chick in the summer of 2013. There are several policies already in place to protect the puffins from human disturbances, but as water temperatures being to warm in the Gulf of Maine outside factors that are not currently address in these policies will begin to affect the puffins.

Since the 1950s, green crab populations have increased exponentially. Their consumption of shellfish and resistance to warming water temperatures has made them one of the most widely distributed intertidal crab species in the world.

Herring landings have increased by almost 60% from 1983 to 2013. The creation of a Fisheries Management Plan for herring in 1996 and the implementation of Amendment Four which switched from Total Allowable Catch levels to Annual Catch Levels have allowed herring to remain in a relatively stable state.

North Atlantic right whale populations are hardly growing at a rate of 2.8% and are therefore critically endangered. There are fewer than 500 individuals in the North Atlantic and an average of 4.05 right whales are killed or seriously injured by human activity per year. The Large Whale Take Reduction Rule has helped mitigate these incidents but critical habitat area for the whales is insufficient.

The Western North Atlantic stock of the harbor seal has over 70,000 individuals between Canada and New England. They are defined as being of “least concern” to the IUCN but face threats of gear entanglement. Over 99% of fishery-related mortalities and serious injuries between 2007 and 2011 were attributed to the gillnet fishery. They are sufficiently protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act but should be recognized as a species that is vulnerable to human activity.

The varied status of each of these five species indicate that Maine’s coastal and island wildlife could potentially benefit from an ecosystem based approach to management (EBM, 2010). This approach would help address threats facing all of Maine’s coastal and island wildlife such as climate change, coastal development, and economic growth.


The future health of island wildlife in Maine is dependent on several factors. As the climate in the Gulf of Maine continues to change and the sea surface temperature continues to warm, Maine’s island wildlife will be increasingly affected by prey relocation and habitat alteration. In order to prevent these changes from having devastating impacts on islands wildlife, we believe Maine’s government agencies should continue to recognize and monitor the changes that are occurring in the coastal zone and analyze how they will affect the wildlife on Maine’s islands. Agencies must develop new policies and regulations that help Maine’s coastal and island wildlife not only survive, but also adapt to climate change.

If fish species in Maine that Atlantic Puffins are reliant on for prey continue to relocate to more suitable waters as the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine steadily increases, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service must begin to identify new islands that should be protected as Significant Wildlife Habitat. Multiple colonies of Atlantic puffins in varied locations prevent the species from being completely wiped out by one potential impact and this dispersal must continue if the species is going to remain stable. To do this islands must be identified that would be suitable habitat for Atlantic puffins in response to prey relocation and a seabird restoration program similar to Project Puffin should be used to develop these new colonies. This will allow the Atlantic puffin populations to adapt to climate change and remain stable on Maine’s islands.

The health of the intertidal zone is heavily reliant on the management of invasive green crabs. Finding a way to incentivize stakeholders is an obvious challenge, especially with limited state funding, but the issue is far too big to be ignored. People still have to pay to get a green crab license; however, in an ideal world, the opposite would be the case and there would be a bounty on green crabs. Colby College has initiated a competition in an effort to come up with a strategy for dealing with green crabs and the college is offering a cash prize of $1,000 to the person or group with the best idea (Goldfarb Center, 2014). Getting people from the fishing community to the academic community thinking broadly about the issue will hopefully open the door to the development of an effective management technique.

Healthy offshore wildlife populations in Maine, specifically herring, are fundamental to the entire ecosystem. Research by NGOs that examines spawning patterns and population dynamics in the four management zones will help the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission and New England Fisheries Management Councils set the best allowable catch levels. If herring populations move north as a result of climate change, the management zones will need to be restructured and collaboration with Canada will be necessary. Finally, if herring populations decrease increased gear restrictions on mid-water trawls and longer spawning closures will need to be adapted

While harbor seals and other deep-water wildlife in Maine may not face imminent danger and therefore don’t call for immediate strengthened management, critically endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale do require further protection. Federal agencies and research groups like NOAA’s Protected Species Branch and the Humane Society of the United States should receive additional funding to cover improved tagging and aerial tracking of at-risk animals. This will help accurately identify migration behavior and inform gear restriction rules. Policymakers should be encouraged to review National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) data regarding the need for critical habitat expansion in Maine and along the coast. According to the NMFS, critical habitat area for the North Atlantic right whale should be expanded beyond Massachusetts. Two Maine areas in particular, Jeffrey’s Ledge, which has major co-occurance of fisheries and whale sightings, and Jordan Basin, Maine’s only known right whale breeding area, are being proposed as critical habitat areas by NMFS. International communication can also be strengthened to enhance the regulation of these species in Canadian and Western European waters.

Our analysis of coastal and island wildlife in Maine demonstrates the need for an ecosystem based management approach. Although we looked at five distinct indicator species, we found them to all be connected through the food chain or the impacts they currently face. Ecosystem based management (EBM) is a form of natural resource management that hopes to broaden the narrow scope typically found in traditional species based management. EBM examines the interconnectedness of various pressures and their impacts on the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole (Curtin & Prellezo, 2010). EBM also recognizes humans as key components for the coastal and marine ecosystem and integrates the economic, social and ecological goals of the ecosystem. It accounts for the complexity of natural processes in the coastal and marine ecosystems through the engagement of multiple levels of stakeholders and the consideration of ecological rather than political boundaries (EBM, 2010).

To this day various EBM practices have been applied across the world. Each have experienced their own individual successes and failures however the accomplishments several of them have achieved through its implementation would greatly benefit Maine’s coastal and island wildlife. For example, the Port Orford, Oregon Community Stewardship Area created a new agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that enabled communication between local fishermen and state officials. It has allowed them to share scientific data, discuss individual problems and collaboratively identify solutions (J. Johnson, Wondolleck, & Yaffee, 2010). EBM has also been recognized as a solution on a federal level. The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan follows an EBM approach by integrating input from national, regional, and local stakeholders from all marine sectors to develop comprehensive management of US oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes (National Ocean Council, 2014). In Morro Bay, California EBM was also adopted by the creation of The San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance. Through increased scientific research, this alliance lead to a greater understanding of the natural processes and ecosystem dynamics of Morro Bay that have led to informed management actions and potential policy development (Crawford, Leslie, & Sievanen, 2012). Ecosystem based management also allows for the development of future action plans, which are crucial for the continued successful management of coastal and island wildlife in today’s ever changing environment. The Willamette Valley-Puget Trough-Georgia Basin Ecoregional Assessment in the Pacific Northwest generated a science-based, prioritized list of natural areas that guides policy makers in future conservation projects and funding that has allowed stakeholders to jointly identify the next steps needed to improve this ecosystem (Samples, Wondolleck, & Yaffee, 2010).

These examples demonstrate key accomplishments that are currently needed to better protect Maine’s coastal and island wildlife. While much of Maine’s future is uncertain, we believe that these suggestions will produce the best case scenario for coastal and island wildlife.

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