Stories in Virginia

Mid-Atlantic Seascape

Charting a course for sustainable fisheries and a healthy ocean.

Two humpback whales, a cow and her smaller calf, float suspended in a deep blue ocean.
Ocean Giants Humpback mother and calf. © Ethan Daniels

The Mid-Atlantic Seascape is a highly productive, diverse marine ecosystem and an industrialized, urban hub for commerce.

From Long Island to Cape Hatteras, nearly 50 million people call its shores home, and its primary ocean-dependent industries—shipping, sport and commercial fishing, tourism, recreation and offshore wind energy—generate an estimated $48 billion per year, according to NOAA.

A man stand in the wheelhouse of a small boat. His back is to the camera. Large bushel baskets are stacked behind him on the deck. The still water of the Chesapeake Bay stretches out to the horizon.
Crabber and Tour Guide A commercial crabber and oysterman offers watermen’s heritage tours aboard his boat, Risky Business II. © Jason Houston

Healthy Oceans

 The Nature Conservancy prioritizes sustainable use of fishery and ocean resources by diverse stakeholders. Conservation challenges, including climate change and new ocean uses like offshore wind energy, demand our attention. TNC’s Virginia-based Mid-Atlantic Seascape team pursues two overarching strategic priorities:

  1. Create and install innovative strategies for fisheries management and conservation
  2. Protect vulnerable animals and ecosystems while supporting diverse ocean use

Over the past decade, TNC has worked to improve fisheries and the habitats that support them. 

Small silver menhaden fish leap above the water in a white spray of foam as a humpback whale feeds.
A Moveable Feast TNC's efforts to advance menhaden fishery reform ensure that catch limits are safe for the ecosystem, allowing profitable harvest while leaving enough menhaden to serve as food for humpback whales, striped bass and other predators. © Artie Raslich

Innovative Ocean Management in a Changing Climate

The Mid-Atlantic Seascape is defined by ecological and geopolitical boundaries and a unique maritime culture stretching from Cape Hatteras, NC, to Long Island, NY. The Mid-Atlantic shares some characteristics and conservation concerns with both the South Atlantic and New England, and delineations between these marine regions blur and shift as the changing climate warms the ocean.

Freshly caught welk on a pier.
Fisheries Whelk, also known regionally as conch, are an off-season source of income for some fishermen. But overfishing is a growing concern, as demand for meat of these edible sea snails is in high demand, particularly in China. © Jason Houston

Ocean management along the Atlantic Coast is in a critical period of change and faces a growing list of challenges: Important fish species are reacting to climate change, renewable energy development is rapidly expanding and more people than ever are using the ocean for recreation.

TNC is at the forefront of important conversations about adjusting ocean management to meet these new circumstances. We bring a strong, conservation-minded voice to discussions about restoring and protecting critical fish habitat, deploying offshore wind sustainably, improving data and monitoring systems for new and existing fisheries and preparing for uncertainty in the face of climate change.

We are dedicated to ensuring necessary adaptation while maintaining the important legacy of Virginia’s fisheries.

Aerial drone view looking down on a small boat navigating through the main branch of a coastal channel. Smaller channels bend and curve through the wetlands.
Virginia Coast Reserve Healthy natural communities can make a difference in places like VA's Eastern Shore, vulnerable to rising seas and more frequent and intense storms due to climate change. © Kyle LaFerriere Photography

An Ocean that Works for Everyone

Virginia has over 10,000 miles of coastline, from the ocean to tidal bays and rivers. Over 60% of Virginians live in the coastal zone, and 100% are connected to the ocean in some way. The Mid-Atlantic Seascape team capitalizes on the conservation work of our colleagues in mountains, forests and coastal estuaries to ensure that TNC in Virginia fights for every ecosystem in our commonwealth.

Healthy oceans are an important step to striking the conservation balance we all hope the future holds.

As people place increasing and often-competing demands on our ocean, TNC is employing its signature strengths in science and collaboration to change how society views and uses our ocean.

Rather than treating it as inexhaustible, TNC works with partners in government, industry and other NGOs to advance policies and practices that balance the ocean’s many uses while restoring and sustaining the integrity of its natural systems—using the ocean wisely without crowding nature out.

Our successes to date prove that change is possible:

  • Created the Ocean Data Portal, an interactive tool that allows ocean planners to make smarter decisions and help solve challenges, such as adjusting shipping lanes to reduce collisions with whales and placing potential wind turbines to keep seabirds and marine mammals out of harm’s way.
  • Protected more than 50 species of forage fish—including the iconic Atlantic menhaden—from new or expanding fisheries, until scientists can set safe harvest levels that leave fish in the water to serve as food for predators.
  • Defended and advanced menhaden fishery reform to ensure that menhaden catch limits are safe for the ecosystem, allowing profitable harvest while leaving enough menhaden in the water to serve as food for humpback whales, striped bass and other predators. 
  • Protected 40,000 square miles of deep-sea coral habitat in partnership with the fishing industry, coral scientists and other conservation groups and fishery managers. Major fishery regulation changes typically bring intense conflict and litigation—working together, we developed trust and reached consensus on fishery closure boundaries. 
  • Completed the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan, which increases coordination and information sharing among state and federal agencies when making all ocean management decisions. 
A man stands on a wooden pier pulling in and stacking a net. Small fishing boats are tied up to the pier in the background.
A Economic Engine The mid-Atlantic region's commercial fisheries support nearly 100,000 jobs. © Jason Houston
× A man stands on a wooden pier pulling in and stacking a net. Small fishing boats are tied up to the pier in the background.

Leading Ocean Conservation

Though best known for our protection of tens of millions of acres of terrestrial habitat, TNC has evolved to become the world’s largest ocean conservation organization. We are applying our scientific, solutions-oriented approach to identify holistic solutions that maximize benefits for nature and people while minimizing costs.

Our Conservation Actions

Strategize for Climate-Ready Fisheries Management

Conservation-minded voices need seats at the table when decisions are made about fisheries management. The Nature Conservancy helps federal agencies—including NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)—develop a playbook for the consequences of climate change to our marine resources, including those yet to be discovered.

Advocate for Wind Developers to Prioritize Positive Impacts

Offshore wind installations have the potential to create habitat for important fish species, such as black sea bass and flounder. TNC engages with wind developers to determine how to best calculate these effects. Our goal is to see ecosystem benefits become requirements for new offshore wind farms.

Support Responsible Siting of New Offshore Wind Leases

There are many important and special places in the ocean. As the United States continues offshore wind development, location conflicts with other ocean users and marine life occur regularly. TNC helps ameliorate these conflicts by supporting responsible siting decisions, which minimize disruptions to industries such as commercial fishing that depend on a healthy ocean.

Promote Science-Based Ecosystem Management

Outside stakeholder reviews of the latest research—such as those provided by TNC’s expert scientists—help inspire confidence in and ease the transition to new and improved scientific foundations.

Mobilize Conservation-Minded Recreational Fishing Captains

Recreational fishermen and related businesses are natural partners. TNC provides fishing captains with scientific information and platforms for their voices to be heard in support of conservation-minded management.

Identify and Protect Vulnerable Habitats

TNC helps to identify and map important and vulnerable fish habitats— the first step toward ultimately protecting them from threats.

We can transform ocean management through science, expertise and the practical tools that we bring to our partnerships. Most importantly, we’re a part of coastal communities and deeply invested in preserving the Mid-Atlantic Seascape for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come.

WATCH: In this mid-week webinar, our experts discuss topics including the future of off-shore wind and demonstrate a new mapping tool that is uniting researchers across the Eastern seaboard in understanding climate change effects in the Atlantic.

Mapping the Mid-Atlantic (57:24) In this mid-week webinar, Marine Fisheries Scientist Kate Wilke and TNC Virginia's GIS Manager Chris Bruce pull back the curtain on the busy mid-Atlantic.


Kate Wilke
Director, Mid-Atlantic Marine Program



Sustainable Fisheries

Improving fisheries and the habitats that support them.