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The Status of Eelgrass, Zostera marina, as Bay Scallop Habitat: Consequences for the Fishery in the Western Atlantic.

Author(s): Fonseca, Mark S. and Amy V. Uhrin

NCCOS Center: CCFHR (http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/centers/ccfhr)

Center Team: Beaufort

Publication Type: Journal Article

Journal Title: Marine Fisheries Review

Date of Publication: 2009

Reference Information: 71(3): 20-33.

Abstract: Zostera marina is a member of a widely distributed genus of seagrasses, all commonly called eelgrass. The reported distribution of eelgrass along the east coast of the United States is from Maine to North Carolina. Eelgrass inhabits a variety of coastal habitats, due in part to its ability to tolerate a wide range of environmental parameters. Eelgrass meadows provide habitat, nurseries, and feeding grounds for a number of commercially and ecologically important species, including the bay scallop, Argopecten irradians. In the early 1930’s, a marine event, termed the “wasting disease,” was responsible for catastrophic declines in eelgrass beds of the coastal waters of North America and Europe, with the virtual elimination of Z. marina meadows in the Atlantic basin. Following eelgrass declines, disastrous losses were documented for bay scallop populations, evidence of the importance of eelgrass in supporting healthy scallop stocks. Today, increased turbidity arising from point and non-point source nutrient loading and sediment runoff are the primary threats to eelgrass along the Atlantic coast and, along with recruitment limitation, are likely reasons for the lack of recovery by eelgrass to pre-1930’s levels. Eelgrass is at a historical low for most of the western Atlantic with uncertain prospects for systematic improvement. However, of all the North American seagrasses, eelgrass has a growth rate and strategy that makes it especially conducive to restoration and several states maintain ongoing mapping, monitoring, and restoration programs to enhance and improve this critical resource. The lack of eelgrass recovery in some areas, coupled with increasing anthropogenic impacts to seagrasses over the last century and heavy fishing pressure on scallops which naturally have erratic annual quantities, all point to a fishery with profound challenges for survival.

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