Breathing Life Back into New Bedford Harbor
Photo Credit: USFWS
New Bedford Harbor is a major commercial fishing port and industrial center in southeastern Massachusetts. From the 1940s to the 1970s, electrical parts manufacturers regularly discharged wastes containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic metals into the harbor. Hundreds of acres were highly contaminated, resulting in reproductive impairment and death of marine life throughout the estuary, along with loss of marine biodiversity in areas of high contamination. The economic impact was severe, due to long-term fishing closures, the loss of using the beaches, diminished property values, and reduced opportunities for coastal development.
When hazardous substances enter the environment, wildlife and other natural resources can be injured. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), along with other federal, state, and tribal partners, acts as a trustee for these resources.
As part of this Natural Resource Damage Assessment for New Bedford Harbor, the Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts worked to identify the natural resources injured, determined the extent of the injuries, and recovered damages from the responsible parties.
In this case, the natural resource trustees reached a settlement with the responsible parties for $20.2 million in 1992. Since then, under NOAA's lead, more than 40 restoration-related projects have been funded in and around the New Bedford Harbor area.
Photo Credit: USFWS
Highlights from the project restoration accomplishments include the protection of nearly 700 acres (283 hectares) of wildlife habitat in the New Bedford Harbor environment, the creation of two city parks in New Bedford, restoration of approximately 20 acres (eight ha) of saltmarsh, enhancement of habitat for the federally endangered roseate tern (Sterna dougallii dougallii), restoration and improvement of shell fishery operations in New Bedford Harbor, restoration of eel grass beds in New Bedford Harbor, and the restoration of river herring and American eel to the Acushnet River.
The Acushnet River herring restoration project involved restoring fish passage at three antiquated dams. Providing passage with nature like fishways and denil fish ladders has dramatically increased the abundance of river herring in the system. NOAA and the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries reported earlier this year that the number of river herring has increased substantially from less than 400 before the restoration, to more than 10,000. At the former site of the Acushnet Sawmill dam, the trustees have also funded the Buzzards Bay Coalition to restore wetlands and grassland habitats by removing impervious surfaces, as well as to create a visitor center and trails through the restored area. The herring restoration has been so successful that the Acushnet River Fish Passage Restoration Project won the Fish Passage 2014 Conference Distinguished Project Award in Madison, Wisconsin.
Wildlife and Habitat Conservation
- Conservation Planning