America's oceans won a major victory today when the New England Fishery Management Council voted to protect deep-sea coral communities in New England and mid-Atlantic offshore submarine canyons from destructive monkfish bottom trawling gear.
The New England Fishery Management Council meeting held this week in Fairhaven, Mass. today adopted an Oceana-supported amendment to the monkfish management plan that includes significant protections for deep-sea corals in the ocean off New England and the mid-Atlantic. The amendment bans fishing for monkfish by bottom trawling and gillnetting in the Oceanographer and Lydonia canyons where marine scientists have identified and studied large deep-sea coral communities.
The amendment adopted by the council also limits the size of the bottom trawling roller gear and rockhopper gear on the mouth of the nets to no more than six inches in diameter in the submarine canyon areas off the shores of the mid-Atlantic states known as the "southern management area" of the monkfish fishery. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is expected to ratify the amendment this year for their region.
"We congratulate the New England council members for this major decision that protects deep-sea corals and the ocean environment," said Dave Allison, director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Destructive Trawling. "This decision also shows the other U.S. regional fishing councils that fishermen, managers and the conservation community can and must work hand-in-hand as stewards of the ocean."
Destructive bottom trawling gear, often weighing several tons, clear-cuts the ocean floor and crushes everything in its path, damage that often takes centuries to restore. Scientists are just beginning to learn about the deep-sea coral communities that often lie in canyons off the continental shelf of the United States. Deep-sea coral communities provide spawning and nursery areas for fish and other marine life that supports the environment for commercially valuable fish. As more shallow fishing areas are depleted, fishermen increasingly are using improved fishing technology to fish in deeper waters, where cold-water corals live.
"The amendment adopted by the New England council today demonstrates that deep-sea corals and the ocean seafloor can be conserved, protected and restored, while allowing sustainable fishing practices to continue," said Allison.
The decision made today by the New England council must be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, D.C., and will go into effect for the 2005 monkfish fishery.