Biodiversity on the Continental Slope Off Georges Bank: Resource Potential and Vulnerability to Disturbance

Deployment of NEFSC underwater video system.
Deployment of NEFSC underwater video system.
Project Summary:

Using multiple sampling techniques, this project will characterize the pelagic and benthic biodiversity of the continental slope on the southern edge of Georges Bank.


Southern slope of Georges Bank


As fisheries within the Gulf of Maine become depleted fishing pressure will move further offshore to the continental slope. Scientists know relatively little about the biodiversity of the continental slope, but they are concerned about potential impact that fishing activity may have. This project will characterize and map biodiversity relative to habitat type, estimate potential commercial fish resources, and assess the vulnerability of these deepwater communities. Importantly, this project will occur before extensive commercial exploitation, creating a baseline for future work.

For an overview of the continental slope and other regions within the Gulf of Maine, see Physioregions.

  • Michael J. Fogarty, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center
  • Jay M. Burnett (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • John Galbraith (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • J. Michael Jech (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • William Michaels (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Susan Wigley (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • NOAA Ocean Explorer
Project Detail:

The potential of deep water habitats to support commercial fisheries has elicited considerable recent interest. In contrast to the extensively studied (and exploited) continental shelf regions of the world ocean, substantially less information on the biota and habitats of the continental slope regions is currently available. We propose to examine the assemblages of megafaunal species on the continental slope off Georges Bank, an historically important fishing ground located off the coast of New England.

Extension of fishing grounds into deeper water on the continental slope has escalated as shallower-water resources have been depleted. The epibenthic fauna of many of these deep water environments is thought to be vulnerable to disturbance from bottom-fishing gears. Many of these areas are subject to low rates of natural disturbance and the potential impact of anthropogenic disturbance is high. We propose an integrated survey utilizing advanced acoustic and optical (video) systems in conjunction with more traditional net-based sampling to characterize the slope water system in both the pelagic and demersal realms to depths up to 1200 m. Key objectives include:

  • mapping of megafaunal species in relation to habitat type,
  • estimating biomass of living marine resources for species of current or potential commercial value,
  • characterizing the biodiversity in this system,
  • and assessing the potential vulnerability of species or local habitats.