We know that eagles and bears need habitat to survive, but what about fish in the ocean? Today fishermen and environmentalists are celebrating a settlement agreement with the federal government to protect marine fish habitat throughout U.S. waters.
Like animals on land, fish need special areas for food, breeding, and shelter. Known as “Essential Fish Habitat” (EFH), these areas are sometimes greatly impacted by fishing gear such as fish trawls and dredges. The settlement requires the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, an arm of the Department of Commerce) to analyze the environmental impacts of fishing gears on marine habitat. The government must come up with a range of alternatives to minimize those impacts on EFH.
“Scientists tell us that certain fishing gears, such as shrimp trawls and scallop dredges, act like bulldozers on ocean habitats,” said Eric Bilsky, Senior Attorney for Oceana, a new international marine conservation organization that negotiated the settlement on behalf of nine fishing and environmental organizations (listed below). “Without habitat there will be no fish, and without fish, there will be no fishing.”
The groups filed the lawsuit (American Oceans Campaign v. Evans, Civil No. 99-982 GK)in 1998 to protect habitats critical to fish health and productivity, such as: coral reefs of the South Atlantic and Caribbean, deep-sea corals, seamounts, and hardbottom habitats of New England and Alaska, and kelp forests of California.
"If fish could speak, they would be shouting with joy," said Phil Kline, Fisheries Program Director for American Oceans Campaign. "The protection of essential fish habitat is key to restoring and maintaining the health of the nation's ocean wildlife. This settlement is a major step toward that goal."
A U.S. District Court decision in September, 2000, ordered the government to take a “hard look” at “how fishing practices and gear may damage coral, disrupt fish habitat, and destroy ocean life that helps support healthy fish populations.” Today’s settlement agreement details how and when that hard look will proceed.
“The effects of fishing on marine ecosystems go far beyond the sea life killed in nets, traps, and fishing lines. Some fishing practices damage the essential habitats sea life needs to thrive - -the coral reefs, the seagrass meadows, and even the burrows of tilefish," explains Kimberly Davis, Fish Conservation Program Director of The Ocean Conservancy. "We're really pleased that NMFS will be acting to minimize that damage, as the law requires."
Copies of the settlement agreement, district court decision, and other materials are available online in the Ocean Law Project section.
FULL LIST OF PLAINTIFFS
in American Oceans Campaign v. Evans:
Natural Resources Defense Council (Karen Garrison, (415)777-0220 www.nrdc.org)
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (Zeke Grader, (415)561-5080, www.pcffa.org)
Florida Wildlife Federation (Manley Fuller, (850)656-7113, www.flawildlife.org
Reefkeeper International (Alex Stone, (305)358-4600, www.reefkeeper.org)
Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (Paul Parker, (508)945-2432, www.ccchfa.org)
American Oceans Campaign (Phil Kline, (202)544-3526, www.americanoceans.org)
National Audubon Society (Marlyn Twitchell, (610)527-6313, www.audubon.org)
Oceana (Eric Bilsky, (202)833-3900, www.oceana.org)
The Ocean Conservancy (formerly Center for Marine Conservation) (Kim Davis, (202)429-5609, www.oceanconservancy.org)