La région de Quody, aux confins de la baie de Fundy : un oasis marin en déclin

Il y a si peu de régions d'une telle importance sur la planète qu'elles justifient qu'on y porte une attention toute spéciale. La région de Quody est un oasis marin de portée internationale. Dans cette région, les conditions créent un point névralgique en diversité des espèces et en productivité.

Le Conseil de la conservation a mené une recherche et préparé un rapport qui démontre clairement que l'accumulation et la synergie des multiples stress imposés à la région de Quoddy sur une période de 200 ans ont bouleversé l'écosystème et le cours de la chaîne alimentaire. Les humains ont altéré l'écosystème par le biais d'effets descendants négatifs comme la pêche, la chasse et les récoltes excessives.

Cet oasis marin peut être restauré et sa vie prolongée si des mesures sont entreprises et maintenues.



The Quoddy Report

The full report, 200 Years of Ecosystem and Food Web Changes in the Quoddy Region, Outer Bay of Fundy, (188 pp) is available on CD from the Conservation Council of New Brunswick for $10 plus postage.

The Quoddy Region,
Outer Bay of Fundy:
A Marine Oasis in Decline

Janice Harvey
Conservation Council of New Brunswick Inc.
June 2004

hroughout the world, there are a few marine regions of such importance that they warrant special attention. The Quoddy Region, the area within a line drawn from Point Lepreau on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, south to the Grand Manan archipelago and west to the Maine shore, is a marine oasis of international significance.

Western Head, Harbour Mouth
View from Musquash Head
(photo: Musquash MPA Campaign website, CCNB)

In the Quoddy Region, ocean currents and circulation patterns, high tides, and upwellings support high concentrations of primary and secondary producers, and a short, energy-efficient pelagic food chain (diatoms krill ÷ fish / birds / mammals). Abundant 'lower order' species attract a wide range of predators from near and far to feed or nurse their young. Coupled with this abundant food supply are the diverse underwater, riverine and terrestrial habitats which provide breeding, spawning, nursing, feeding, foraging, hiding and resting conditions for myriad species. Together, these conditions create a hotspot of species diversity and productivity.

Within the Quoddy Region, there are a few particularly 'hot' spots, critical habitats because they are used by many species at once. Head Harbour and L'Etete Passages and their approaches (within the West Isles archipelago), the eastern Grand Manan archipelago including Machias Seal Island to the south, The Wolves Islands and Maces Bay, at the northerly reach of the Quoddy Region, support a diversity of species interacting among each other as predator and prey, and finding refuge and nursery areas.

For thousands of years, the Passamaquoddy people and their ancestors lived, fished, hunted and cultivated land in the Quoddy Region. Archeologists have called their distinct lifestyle the "Quoddy Tradition" (2200-350 B.P.), differing from that of neighbouring tribes by their particularly diverse utilization of marine species. In the Algonkian language, "Passamaquoddy" denotes a 'bay full of pollock' and 'fishers of pollock.'

Over the 200 years since permanent European settlement in the late 18th century, humans as top predators and developers increased in number and efficiency. Many marine, avian and terrestrial resources became heavily exploited through fishing, hunting, and lumbering. Numerous sawmills, pulp and paper mills, tanneries, fish processing and canning industries, cotton mills, power plants, and eventually intensive finfish aquaculture, were established here, each spewing effluent and debris into rivers and bays virtually unchecked until the last thirty years (aquaculture is just now coming under environmental regulation). Dozens of dams became permanent features on rivers, tributaries and lakes in the Quoddy watershed. Species depletion and habitat degradation and loss have followed in lockstep.

Fog at Musquash Harbour Mouth
(photo: Musquash MPA Campaign website, CCNB)

In the 1960s, groundfish stocks collapsed in Passamaquoddy Bay in the inner Quoddy Region, an area where pollock were once so abundant they were seined in nets. Despite a de facto moratorium on fishing efforts ever since, as well as improvements in pollution loadings from pulp and saw mills, those stocks have not recovered. What has happened to undermine that system's restoration capacity? Has the bay undergone 'ecological simplification,' where the intricate interrelationship of species, habitats, food supply and reproductive conditions has been fundamentally compromised?

These are the questions the Conservation Council set out to answer through a research project launched in Fall 2000. Investigators Heike Lotze of Dalhousie University and CCNB science consultant Inka Milewski compiled archaeological, historic, and recent data for the Quoddy Region in an effort to understand how current relationships between and among species, and between species and habitats, compare with such relationships one hundred and two hundred years ago, and even before Europeans settled the region. Despite limitations in data (availability, comparability, lack of long term monitoring, etc.), the investigators were able to identify some very troubling trends in the Quoddy Region beginning 200 years ago.

Humans have altered the Quoddy Region ecosystem through "top down" impacts such as excessive fishing, hunting and harvesting. The result has been a decline in size and abundance of large fish and mammals, shifts in dominant species, and therefore shifts in food web structure.

Through pollution, humans have caused "bottom-up" impacts such as nutrient enrichment and shifts in nutrient ratios. This has altered species composition in the phytoplankton community and increased the occurrence and abundance of less edible and toxic algal species. Long-lived rockweeds and eelgrasses have declined, while annual seaweed blooms have increased.

The Quoddy ecosystem has also been affected by "side-in"--or more indirect--impacts such as habitat degradation and destruction, chemical contamination and species disturbance. The extent of high quality spawning, breeding, nursing, feeding and staging grounds has declined, and multiple pollutants may have affected the health, survival and reproduction of species. Increasing human activities in and around coastal waters create stress and disturbance for birds, mammals and other species.

Aerial View of Gooseberry Cove
(photo: Musquash MPA Campaign website, CCNB)

The research also revealed some encouraging trends. Laws protecting migratory birds and marine mammals, and establishment of sanctuaries in the early 1900s have seen some populations move towards recovery. Others, such as whales, continue to struggle. River pollution has improved and species such as gaspereau have demonstrated they will return if the physical conditions are right. Technical innovation such as 'pingers' attached to gillnets are reducing the incidence of harbour porpoise entanglements and deaths, and marine mammal recovery programs are releasing porpoise and whales from herring weirs unharmed. In other marine environments, such as the Baltic Sea, it is clear that measures to reduce nutrient loading have made dramatic improvements in habitat quality for marine species.

The Conservation Council report makes it clear that multiple stresses over 200 years have collectively and synergistically resulted in troubling ecosystem and food web trends in the Quoddy Region. Unless each of these stress points is dealt with, the downward spiral will continue. However, as a whole the region seems not to have lost its productive capacity. If measures are taken to ensure species have adequate food, habitat and undisturbed space and time, to reduce the use of destructive and unselective fishing gear, to stop fishing down the food web, to protect those critical habitats used by many species at once, and to reduce nutrient and toxic pollution, then this marine oasis can be restored and sustained.