News of Jamaican trawlers entering Belize’s southern waters in December to fish led to a decisive agreement by the Ministry of Fisheries to halt the issuing of fishing licenses to foreign fishing fleets in Belize’s Exclusive Economic Zone pending consultation with local fishermen. The action will allow officials to assess the sustainability of the proposed venture and ensure it does not displace local artisanal fishing communities. This decision is critical since the government is in the process of drafting regulations to exclude destructive fishing gears to protect vulnerable fin fish species such as parrot fish and Nassau grouper. Oceana’s new office in Belize called on the Government of Belize to suspend all plans and proposals to allow foreign fleets in territorial waters, until the proper groundwork on their viability and overall benefits can be ascertained. Some foreign companies are seeking 15-year development concessions, putting them in direct competition with local Belizeans.
Protecting Habitat in the Atlantic
Capping a five-year effort, Oceana helped persuade the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to protect 59,000km2 of valuable deep-sea corals stretching from North Carolina to Florida by banning all bottom trawl activity in the area. Known as America’s largest continuous deep sea coral ecosystem, the area includes hundreds of pinnacles up to 500 feet tall and provides critical fish habitat for commercially valuable species like snapper, grouper, wreckfish, royal red shrimp and golden crab. Closing the area to bottom trawling will help ensure the long-term productivity of these species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now must approve the plan.
Beginning November 2009, bottom trawls and dredges will be prohibited in four deepwater canyons along the US Atlantic coast – a move that will protect the Atlantic tilefish fishery but that will also preserve a rich ecosystem that supports lobster, deep sea corals and sponges living in the canyons. Oceana pushed the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to close the canyons (Oceanographer, Lydonia, Veatch and Norfolk), which range from Massachusetts to Virginia.
Sparing more than 46,5 million hectares of Bering Sea floor from bottom trawling
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it will adopt Oceana’s “freeze-the-footprint” approach by closing nearly 46,5 million hectares of the Bering Sea to destructive bottom trawling to protect important seafloor habitats and marine life. The area protected is larger than the state of California.
Limiting destructive trawling in Europe
After two years of intensive lobbying by Oceana in Brussels and Madrid, the European Union prohibited destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling, which destroys important marine habitat, in over 160 million acres around the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. The area protected covers an area larger than France.
Protecting 95,5 million hectares of ocean in the North Pacific from Bottom Trawling
In a historic conservation move, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council adopted the Oceana approach and closed nearly 95,5 million hectares of ocean, including recently discovered deep sea coral gardens, to bottom trawling, industrial fishing’s version of clear cutting. The area protected is roughly twice the size of the state of California.
Stopping bottom trawling in New England’s ocean canyons
After campaigning by Oceana, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to protect deep-sea coral communities in New England and Mid-Atlantic submarine canyons from destructive monkfish bottom trawling gear.