Federal fishery regulators say they will keep much-debated protections for Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine in place as part of a broad effort to alter the scope of New England's fishing grounds.

The decision to preserve Cashes Ledge came as the New England Fishery Management Council debated changes to habitat protections in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, southern New England waters and other key fishing areas.

The council met Wednesday and Thursday to approve pieces of the long-awaited habitat plan. The changes will impact the way fishermen harvest key food species — including cod, clams and scallops — in federal waters from Maine to Rhode Island.

The preservation of Cashes Ledge represented a victory for environmentalists who ardently opposed opening it to fishing. The ledge is an underwater mountain and offshore ecosystem mostly closed to fishing, and the council voted that its protections will remain.

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