The Beacon

Victory for Seamounts and Deep-sea Corals

A map of the newly protected habitat areas in the Pacific.

Fantastic news from the international negotiations we told you about last week: the talks concluded on Friday with conservation measures that will protect more than 16.1 million square miles of seafloor habitat in the North Pacific Ocean from bottom trawling and other bottom contact gear. 

Delegates also concluded negotiations on a new treaty. Once signed and ratified, it will establish a new fishery management organization charged with sustainably managing North Pacific Ocean fisheries.

Bottom trawls are massive weighted nets that drag along the ocean floor, destroying anything in their path, including ancient coral forests, gardens of anemones and entire fields of sea sponges. Today’s bottom trawlers go deeper and farther from shore than they could ever reach before, into high seas areas populated with slow-growing deep-sea fish and corals that are especially slow to recover from trawling. Nets can be 200 feet wide and 40 feet high, weighing as much as 1,000 pounds and reaching depths of more than 5,000 feet. 

Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition have been working together to advance these protections against bottom trawling. Participating nations, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei), acted on a commitment they made at the United Nations General Assembly to enact interim conservation measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, like seamounts, deep-sea corals and hydrothermal vents, in international waters. 

The conservation measures, which take effect immediately, end the expansion of bottom trawling and other bottom fishing gear, require an assessment of the long-term sustainability of fish stocks, and a determination that fishing would not have significant effects on sensitive habitats as a condition to allow fishing.

Oceana’s Pacific Project Manager, Ben Enticknap, participated as a member of the U.S. Delegation to these negotiations. “The U.S. worked with a diverse group of nations to freeze the footprint of bottom trawling in international waters, freeze the level of fishing effort, and develop a new fisheries management organization focused on sustainable fisheries and healthy ocean ecosystems,” he said.

The treaty will establish a new international fishery management organization, the North Pacific Fisheries Commission, to oversee implementation and enforcement of regulations for high seas bottom fisheries and other high seas fisheries for species not already managed by existing treaties. 

Congrats to Ben and everyone else who helped score these new protections in the North Pacific!

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