Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organization, applauded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today for approving a plan to protect more than 23,000 square miles of known deep sea coral from North Carolina to Florida from destructive fishing gear. The plan, proposed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in September 2009, will ban the use of bottom-damaging fishing gear in the largest known area of healthy deep sea coral ecosystems in the world, helping to ensure the productivity of commercial fisheries that depend on them.
“An entire ocean ecosystem was lent a helping hand today,” said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Bottom trawling consumes more fuel than most other kinds of fishing and is capable of destroying these ancient coral reefs in a single pass.”
As the oil spill continues in the Gulf of Mexico, Oceana is urging the Obama administration to follow-through on protection of these vulnerable deep sea ecosystems by banning new offshore drilling immediately and permanently. Today’s actions are a brilliant example of the kind of leadership we need to protect deep sea corals along the southeast coast of the United States, at the same time as the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill brings light to another extremely dangerous threat – oil.
“By protecting these corals from destructive fishing practices, NOAA’s action helps deep sea ecosystems stay resilient in the face of other threats,” said Margot Stiles, marine scientist at Oceana. “The fisheries and ecosystems we’ve worked so hard to save are still at risk unless we can stop the drill.”
Deep sea corals off the southeast coast include hundreds of pinnacles up to 500 feet tall. The corals provide homes for a variety of marine species, including sponges with unusual chemistry currently in testing to develop drugs for the treatment of cancer, heart disease and other medical needs.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has already expressed concerns that today’s protection of deep sea corals must be taken into consideration in any future plans for offshore energy development. While their jurisdiction is limited to conservation and management of fisheries, the Council, as an advisory body to NOAA, has the authority to call for the protection of deep sea corals and other fishery habitat from any potential harm, including offshore drilling.
About the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council:
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, headquartered in Charleston, S.C., is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils in the United States established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans designed to manage fishery resources within the federal 200-mile limit off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West. These waters are also known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).