Marine Matters

International Efforts to Protect Marine Biodiversity Through Marine Wilderness Preservation in the Northwest Atlantic (New England)
Christopher J. Zeman
Fisheries Program Counsel and New England Field Representative, American Oceans Campaign;

J.H. Martin Willison
School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3J5;


Currently, marine diversity on the continental shelf in the Gulf of Maine has minimal protection

from commercial activities. Last year, numerous environmental organizations, scientists, and

other concerned citizens proposed a 20 by 178 nautical-mile marine protected area in the Gulf of

Maine and Georges Bank ("Gulf of Maine") along the United States-Canadian international

boundary (the "Hague line") to protect marine diversity. The marine protected area, the Gulf of

Maine International Ocean Wilderness ("International Ocean Wilderness"), would straddle the

Hague line – ten miles on each side – as it passes through the Gulf of Maine. The International

Ocean Wilderness would include large portions of the five major habitat types that are representative

of the Gulf of Maine and protect these areas from extractive fishing and non-fishing industrial

activities. If designated, the International Ocean Wilderness would comprise only 6.2% of

the total area in the Gulf of Maine, leaving most of it open to existing industrial activities. The

International Ocean Wilderness would serve four principal functions: (1) preserving marine

diversity; (2) preserving large areas of the five major habitat types; (3) protecting cultural and

historical artifacts; and (4) providing control areas for future benthic ecological study. The

International Ocean Wilderness would also provide the following incidental benefits: (1) enhancing

important benthic fisheries, notably the scallop fishery, by leaving a subpopulation to grow to

advanced adult ages at which egg production is much greater than by adults at average time of

harvest in the present fishery; (2) protecting sensitive essential fish habitats from the effects of

bottom-tending mobile gears; (3) providing a precautionary buffer from the effects of overfishing;

and (4) providing a buffer zone along the Hague line to facilitate enforcement of this international