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Oceana Magazine Summer 2008: Making Waves

Protections proposed for corals off U.S. Southeast coast

In March, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council took an important step toward protecting deep sea corals from North Carolina to Florida.

The council submitted an ecosystem management amendment that identifies and protects 23,000 square miles of vital ocean seafloor as a "habitat of particular concern," a designation that will prohibit destructive bottom trawling in the area. It will be the largest protected coral habitat along the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

"This is the result of years of campaigning by Oceana and other conservation organizations, as well as fishermen who value the ocean's fragile ecosystem," said Dave Allison, director of Oceana's campaign to end destructive trawling. "Deep sea corals take decades to centuries to recover from trawling damage, and protections like this are critical."

The corals in question can create pinnacles up to 500 feet tall and 1,000 years old, constituting an ecosystem comparable to the redwood forests of the western United States. They are home to a variety of sea life, including crabs, grouper and shrimp.

If approved, the amendment should go into effect in 2009 after public hearings are completed and the Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service take final action. Oceana staff will be working to ensure that the process continues on track.


Marviva Med Joins Oceana

Oceana's on-the-water presence doubled with the debut of MarViva Med, a 138-foot vessel that embarked on its maiden campaign this summer. The ship joins Oceana's Ranger in documenting marine life and wasteful fishing practices.

The MarViva Foundation has donated the use of MarViva Med for an extensive expedition that will specifically focus on the plight of the bluefin tuna, one of the world's most coveted and threatened seafood species.

"Industrial fishing is pushing bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction," said Xavier Pastor, Vice President of Oceana Europe. "By documenting wasteful fishing techniques, MarViva Med and its crew will help bolster the case for protecting this important species."

MarViva Med will crisscross the Mediterranean Sea, visiting key spawning areas near the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Malta, Libya and Turkey. Its crew will follow the activities of the purse seine fleet, fishing ships that sometimes illegally use spotter planes, catch juvenile tuna and exceed their allotted quotas.

MarViva Med will work to ensure that the 2002 ban on driftnets in the Mediterranean is enforced.


French driftnetters off the water in 2008

After Oceana's Ranger spent three summers documenting the use of illegal driftnets on French fishing ships, the European Court of Justice has finally eliminated a loophole that allowed the French to continue using these nets. The European Union banned the use of driftnets in 2002, but the ships continued to operate with support from the government of France. Now, French illegal driftnets will be off the water in 2008.

By refusing to grant an exception to the French driftnet fleet, the court upheld the 2002 ban and effectively took 92 driftnetters off the water, potentially saving about 25,000 juvenile bluefin tuna each year.

In 2007, a group of these driftnetters surrounded and threatened Ranger, which had been photographing and filming the nets at work. The ensuing media attention helped highlight this wasteful and illegal fishing practice, and pushed policymakers toward ending the use of these nets.

"This decision is a very important step toward eliminating all driftnets from the Mediterranean," said Xavier Pastor, Vice President of Oceana Europe. "This protects bluefins as well as innumerable species that were trapped and killed as bycatch in these nets."

Made of multifilament diagonal mesh, driftnets hang vertically in the water between polystyrene floaters and weighted bottoms and can reach up to five miles in length in a set. Between the months of May and October, fishermen leave the nets for up to six hours overnight on calm seas before hauling them in. The nets are notorious for catching thousands of creatures besides bluefin tuna, including ocean sunfish, pelagic stingrays, loggerhead sea turtles, striped dolphins, sperm whales and pilot whales.