On Sunday December 8, 2002, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council finalized a decision to include Oceana's Aleutian Seafloor Habitat Protection Alternative in the range of options it will consider in the Essential Fish Habitat Environmental Impact Statement. The decision was in response to over 500 public comments from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska asking that such an alternative be included.
“This is a great step forward showing that fishermen and conservationists can work together for the long-term benefit of our vibrant fishery resources and their habitat,” said Jim Ayers, Director of Oceana's North Pacific Regional Office. “The North Pacific Fishery Management Council should be commended for including this science-based approach as an alternative.”
Oceana's alternative seeks to protect sensitive habitat from bottom trawling, while maintaining vibrant fisheries. The alternative would prohibit bottom trawling or other destructive disturbance in pristine areas and areas of high impacts to sea floor life like corals and sponges. In addition, this Oceana alternative sets hard limits on the incidental catch and destruction of sensitive habitat species.
“A great deal of work went into the development of this approach,” said Kris Balliet, Alaska Regional Director of The Ocean Conservancy. “We traveled Alaska and worked with top marine scientists to improve our model. Continued dialogue through the process among fishermen, scientists, conservationists, and fishery managers will make this alternative even better.”
Deep-sea corals and sponges found in the Aleutians are long-lived habitat important for rockfish, cod, king crab, and many other marine animals. Oceana is focusing on the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea because it is the most abundant, diverse, and complex sea floor habitat including deep-sea coral ecosystem left on Earth.
A key component of Oceana's alternative is a comprehensive seafloor research, mapping, and monitoring program for the Aleutians. “Alaska depends on sustainable fisheries and we can only have sustainable fisheries for this and the next generation if we make decisions based on sound science” said Ayers. “A three year comprehensive research and mapping program for the Aleutian Islands that includes observer systems will show us how to have viable fisheries without destroying the habitat that fish and other marine life depend on, like these magnificent coral reefs.”