Oceana applauded today's introduction of the Ocean Habitat Protection Act of 2003, a groundbreaking conservation bill. Authored by U.S. Representative Joel Hefley (R-Colorado), the Ocean Habitat Protection Act is a landmark in the protection of our oceans and their habitats, particularly corals and other marine life on or near the ocean floor.
“Congressman Hefley's bill is a win for everyone: conservationists, fishermen and those who love our oceans,” explained Phil Kline, Oceana's Fishery Program Manager and a commercial fisherman for 26 years. “This bill protects fish and deep-sea corals, prohibits large rock-hopper fishing gears which pulverize the ocean floor and destroy marine life, and provides financial assistance to commercial fishermen to encourage use of more environment-friendly fishing gear.”
The Ocean Habitat Protection Act amends the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation's principal ocean fish management law. The bill strictly limits the size of destructive rock-hopper fishing gears to protect sensitive ocean habitats. Currently, commercial fishermen use these heavy gears to hit and bounce over some of the nation's most fragile coral and rocky habitats.
For many years, rock-hopper gears have destroyed deep-sea corals and other vital undersea habitats. These areas provide food, shelter and spawning grounds to various marine animals. Restricting the size of rock-hopper gears will help protect deep-sea corals and other rocky undersea areas that provide important refuges and feeding grounds for many fish and invertebrates.
The bill also establishes a comprehensive project to map seafloor habitat. In recent years, scientists have discovered patches of slow-growing, ancient deep-sea corals. Some deep-sea corals found in the North Pacific Ocean are estimated to be hundreds of years old.
In addition, the Ocean Habitat Protection Act provides up to $4,000 of financial assistance to fishermen who want to replace rock-hoppers with more benign gears. Furthermore, the Ocean Habitat Protection Act also allows additional financial incentives to those fishermen who abandon bottom trawling altogether and commit to fishing with fishpots, fishtraps or hook-and-line gear.
“The Ocean Habitat Protection Act is a huge step forward,” stated Ted Morton, Oceana's Federal Policy Director. “While we must all continue to fight to protect our oceans and their habitats, this critical legislation gives us the tools to move ahead. We urge Congress to pass this legislation quickly so that the President can sign it into law.”
Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world's oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana's constituency includes members and activists from more than 150 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world's marine environment. In 2002, the American Oceans Campaign became part of Oceana's international effort to protect ocean eco-systems and sustain the circle of life. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas and will open offices in Latin America and Europe in 2003. For more information, visit www.oceana.org .