Histoire écologique d'une oasis marine unique aux Maritimes

La région
Quoddy, au large
de la baie de
Fundy, est une
section fascinante
de l'Atlantique
Nord-Ouest où
pullulent de
grands nombres
marines diverses
et productives.
biologique de
cette oasis
marine dépasse
grandement ses
Les courants
océaniques et
leurs circulations,
les hautes marées,
les remontées
d'eau, ainsi qu'une
chaîne alimentaire
courte et
supportent de
concentrations de
vie marine.

Le Conseil de
conservation du
a publié un
rapport* qui
dévoile l'histoire
des changements
de l'écosystème et
du réseau
alimentaire de la
région Quoddy,
au sud-ouest du
Brunswick, durant
les deux derniers

En comparaison
à d'autres
côtiers hautement
affectés, la région
Quoddy a
cependant encore
beaucoup de
potentiel pour
soutenir une
faune et une flore
marine diverse, et
qui pourrait être
régénérées ou
préservées si l'on
choisi des
pratiques de
gestion judicieuses.



































































Satellite image –
This is the cover
page of the report
showing a satellite
picture of the
Quoddy Region
in the Outer 
Bay of Fundy

(photo : CCNB)

Environmental history
of a unique marine oasis
in the Maritimes

Heike K. Lotze
, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University ,
and Inka Milewski, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

September 2002

he Quoddy Region in the outer Bay of Fundy is a fascinating hotspot of marine species diversity and productivity in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Comparable to the extensive mudflats in the inner Bay of Fundy, the biological importance of this marine oasis far exceeds its geographical boundaries. Ocean currents and circulation patterns, high tides, upwelling, and a short, energy-efficient food chain support high concentrations of marine life. Microscopic diatoms, copepods and krill form the base of a food web that supports an amazing variety of predatory invertebrates, fishes, marine birds and mammals from nearby and as far away as the Arctic, South America, and South Africa. But the rich food supply appears to be only part of the equation. The diverse underwater and terrestrial landscapes provide a high variety of habitats fulfilling the diverse species-specific needs for breeding, spawning, nursing, foraging, hiding and resting. This habitat diversity, together with the extraordinary food supply, form the base for the hotspot of species diversity and productivity that is observed in this region.   Especially the West Isles archipelago, the Grand Manan archipelago, Maces Bay and The Wolves islands are critical habitats, which are used by many species simultaneously.

Algal bloom & fishfarm – This photograph
shows a green algal bloom covering a gravel
beach near a salmon aquaculture site (in the
background) at L’Etete in 1999.

(photograph by B. Worm)

In February 2002, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick published a report* that unveils the history of changes in the ecosystem and food web of the Quoddy Region, southwestern New Brunswick, over the past two centuries. By accessing all available anecdotal and scientific information, and by talking to residents and scientists in the area, we compiled a new synthesis of information that can be used for developing conservation strategies to protect and preserve a unique marine ecosystem.

For thousands of years, native people lived, fished, hunted and cultivated land around Passamaquoddy Bay. Faunal remains from archaeological sites suggest that large cod (>1m in length), pollock, and herring were used as food resources for over 4000 years. Around Passamaquoddy Bay, prehistoric people focused especially on marine resources and used a more diverse shellfish fauna than their neighbors in the Maritimes and Maine. Their distinct lifestyle was recognized as the “Quoddy Tradition” in the Maritime Woodland period (2200-350 B.P.). In their words, “Passamaquoddy” denotes a ‘bay full of pollock’ and ‘fishers of pollock’.

European explorers first visited the shores of the Bay of Fundy in the early 1600s, but permanent settlements were not established until the late 18th century. Then, however, the new settlers transformed the region culturally, economically and environmentally within a matter of years. Many of the marine, as well as terrestrial, resources became heavily exploited, and several industries (e.g. sawmills, pulp and paper mills, tanneries, fish processing plants, canning industries, cotton mills) concentrated in the region. The related multiple human influences harmed the environment and many species directly or indirectly. The hotspot of marine diversity and productivity became also a hotspot of human activities.

Shoreline – This photograph shows a typical rocky shore at low tide in Passamaquoddy Bay covered with dense rockweed stands

(photograph by H.K. Lotze)

Over time, hunting and fishing pressure increased in terms of effort, efficiency and spatial extent. Many marine birds and mammals were almost extirpated around 1900, but started to recover when protective laws were introduced in the 20th century. In the sea fishery, there is a long history of declining abundance of traditional target species such as cod, haddock, pollock and herring. As a result, dominance patterns in the fish community have shifted from formerly abundant groundfish to commercially less valuable and smaller species, such as dogfish, hake and sculpin. When traditional target stocks collapsed, fishing shifted to lower and lower trophic levels in the food web, harvesting crabs, scallops, periwinkles, sea urchins and recently rockweeds. Also, a significant move to replace wild salmon fisheries with aquaculture was initiated in the 1980s.

Not only exploitation, but also habitat alteration, destruction and degradation took place on a growing scale. Consequently, high quality spawning, breeding, nursing, and foraging habitat has been severely reduced or degraded over the past 200 years. A prominent example is the decline of Atlantic salmon and other diadromous fish due to damming and river pollution, which started in the early 1800s. Many breeding colonies of birds were destroyed by human settlements and the introduction of predators to remote islands. Spawning grounds in the sea were degraded by trawling of seafloor habitats. Multiple chemical pollutants have affected health, survival and reproduction of many species, and increasing human activities in and around coastal waters have enhanced the level of physiological stress and disturbance. Sewage and discharges from fish-processing plants, pulp and paper mills and aquaculture have increased nutrient and organic loading. This changed the phytoplankton community and partly caused an increase in less edible or toxic species. Long-lived rockweeds and eelgrasses have partly been replaced with annual green algal blooms or filter feeding invertebrates such as mussels and barnacles.


Timelines for Major Development Activities (other than fishing)
in the Quoddy Region, outer Bay of Fundy (1700-2000)


Every change that occurred in any single species population had an influence on the overall food web and ecosystem. Major shifts include the loss or decline of large predatory species, increasing dominance of commercially less important and smaller species, the shift to low-trophic level harvesting, and an overall increase in opportunistic, generalist, rather than specialist, species. These strong shifts in species composition, abundance and dominance patterns changed predator-prey interactions, competitive and mutual beneficial relationships, as well as linkages between habitat-building species and their users.

Compared to other highly impacted coastal ecosystems however, the Quoddy Region still has a lot of potential to sustain a diverse and productive marine fauna and flora, which could be regenerated or preserved if wise management actions are chosen. For example, in the Quoddy region, protection efforts in the 20th century enabled the recovery of many bird and some mammal species. Periods of lower fishing pressure during World War II and after the extension of the 200-mile limit in the 1970s, have enabled fish stocks to increase in abundance. Restoration of river habitat and effective fishways allowed alewife populations to return. The use of acoustic “pingers” in gill nets reduced the by-catch of harbour porpoise. In other marine habitats, effective sewage treatment reduced nutrient and organic loads, and the designation of protection zones resulted in the recovery of benthic habitat and the increase in fish biomass in Marine Protected Areas around the world. If we choose to (1) provide marine species with adequate habitat, food, and undisturbed space and time, (2) reduce the use of destructive and unselective fishing gear, (3) protect critical spawning, breeding, nursing, foraging and staging habitats, (4) reduce nutrient pollution and chemical discharges, (5) reduce stress and disturbance on species, and (6) achieve an integration of human and marine species’ needs, then the Quoddy and other marine regions may again support future generations of marine life and humans as it did for the past thousands of years.   

*Lotze H. K. and I. Milewski. (2002) Two hundred years of ecosystem and food web changes in the Quoddy Region, outer Bay of Fundy. Report of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick Marine Conservation Program,
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, 188 pages.

This article was compiled from this report.
To order the report, contact:
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
Tel: (506) 458-8747
Fax: (506) 458-1047