In a strong show of support for ocean protection, the National Marine Fisheries Service was flooded with nearly 50,000 postcards, faxes, letters, and e-mails from every state requesting the federal agency protect corals, sponges and other living seafloor of the Pacific from destructive bottom trawling.
"All across the country, people are that realizing their responsibility to the next generation includes the gift of healthy oceans," said Jim Ayers, director of the Pacific for Oceana, the only international ocean conservation group solely dedicated to the oceans. "We can no longer afford to over-exploit and pollute our oceans and leave the tab for our kids to pick up. We must leave the tools to clean up our mess."
The 50,000 pieces of communication were in response to the Fisheries Service's request for public comment, a period that ended on May 12, 2005. The Pacific Fishery Management Council is expected to choose a recommendation for a final alternative at its June meeting in Foster City, Calif.
The Oceana management alternative submitted to the Fisheries Service, called Alternative 12, freezes the bottom trawl footprint; protects 61 areas of the Pacific Ocean off Washington , Oregon and California within the existing footprint that have rich seafloor habitat; establishes limits on how much coral and sponge can be caught and discarded as bycatch; and sets in place ongoing research and monitoring. The end result protects thousands of square miles of seafloor while maintaining vibrant fisheries.
"Alternative 12 shows that we can have a balanced approach - it doesn't have to be all or nothing," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the West Coast's largest commercial fishing organization. "The livelihoods of fishing men and women depend on abundant fish stocks and that means protecting the ocean environment. This alternative, developed by Oceana to protect important fish habitat while maintaining fisheries, is a win for everyone - consumers, fishermen and fishing communities, as well as our fish and oceans."
Oceana's approach to protecting seafloor habitat from destructive trawling is supported by many regional stakeholders including commercial fishing groups (Pacific Marine Conservation Council and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations); recreational fishing groups (Coastside Fishing Club, United Anglers of Southern California); and other conservation organizations (The Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California).
"United Anglers has been happy to work with Oceana and others in the environmental community to protect our ocean resources," said Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California. "Oceana's Alternative 12 could stop the spread of destructive bottom trawling. It's a welcome change from fishing everywhere and dealing with consequences later. I wish we'd had this kind of approach before we lost most of the rockfish on the coast."
Additional support came from the California Coastal Commission, which wrote to the Fisheries Service: "It is critical to protect important seafloor habitat like corals and sponges, and other special places such as seamounts and deep sea canyons."
"The bottom line is sustainability," said Ayers. "We took all available data and information, listened to concerns of the trawlers and built a management alternative that can work for everyone."