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Looking Back: GARFO’s Top 5 Stories for 2017

As we look back on a year’s worth of stories from the Greater Atlantic Region, five particularly caught our readers’ attentions. Here are our top five stories from 2017:

1. Surprise Catch: First Shortnose Sturgeon Documented Above Dam in Connecticut River

This August, a fisherman casting downstream of the Vernon Dam (in Vernon, Vermont) on the Connecticut River (see map) had quite a surprise when he reeled in not a walleye or bass, but instead a relic from the age of dinosaurs: an adult-sized shortnose sturgeon.

Sturgeon are among the most primitive of the bony fishes, and have five rows of bony plates or “scutes” covering their bodies. More than once, these odd-looking ancients have been mistaken for sea monsters. Shortnose sturgeon are the smallest of the sturgeon species that live in North America, and have been listed as endangered since 1967. As part of our Recovery Plan for the species, we monitor their populations in a number of rivers along the U.S. East Coast.

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2. NOAA Fisheries Recommends Actions to Help Right Whales

Coming at the end of a devastating summer for right whales, the North Atlantic Right Whale Five-Year Review and its list of recommended actions to promote right whale recovery is particularly timely.

Twelve dead endangered North Atlantic right whales were found floating in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. These deaths account for nearly 3 percent of the total population. In addition, there were four confirmed live right whale entanglements, two of which were disentangled. In U.S. waters, at least one right whale has died from a ship strike and two other carcasses were spotted this year. These recent mortalities and entanglements, particularly the high numbers in Canada, have experts in both countries concerned for the future of this species. These documented deaths represent a minimum; an updated estimate of population size will provide a clearly understanding of the number of whales that died in 2017.

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3. How Removing Dams Changes River Channels

Around the Northeast and throughout the country, aging dams are being removed to improve public safety and restore river and coastal ecosystems. Originally built for everything from providing power for mills to flood control, many of these older dams have outlived their usefulness as technology has advanced. Dam removal in coastal watersheds opens access to spawning and rearing habitats for migratory fish. More than a dozen marine fish species, including Atlantic salmon, river herring, and American shad, need freshwater habitats to complete one or more life cycle stages. Today, there are still thousands of dams that impede these migrations.

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4. Notice to Cape Cod Boaters: Watch Out for Whales

With endangered right whales returning to Cape Cod Bay, we want to take this opportunity to remind mariners to keep a sharp lookout for flippers, spouts, and any signs of whales in the water.

There has been an unusually high number of right whale sightings around the Cape Cod Canal and in Cape Cod Bay this year, including two recently spotted mother and calf pairs. Last May, one of the eight calves was killed by a vessel strike, and was found floating off Chatham, Massachusetts.

“With right whales in very high concentration in the Bay and knowing that they can be very difficult to spot as they often hang just below the surface, I am very concerned about vessels striking these animals,” says Charles “Stormy” Mayo, PhD, Director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, an important private partner that works closely with NOAA and the state. “With only three known calves born this year in the North Atlantic, the two calves in our Bay are extremely precious, and we need to do all we can to keep them safe.”

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5. NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator Announces Retirement

NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator John Bullard today formally announced he will retire on January 5, 2018 (update: exact date TBD). Bullard, who took the top job in the agency’s Gloucester-based office in 2012, will leave a legacy of improved relationships with the regulated community, the research community, environmentalists, local, state, and federal officials and agency partners, including the New England and the Mid-Atlantic fishery management councils and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

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Looking forward to an exciting 2018!