Delivering a second major victory for the oceans in two weeks, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council unanimously voted today to accept the recent New England council decision to protect deep-sea coral communities in New England and mid-Atlantic submarine canyons from destructive monkfish bottom trawling gear. These decisions are the first indication that fishery managers are using new scientific research to protect invaluable marine life, such as deep-sea corals.
The Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils manage the monkfish fishing area that runs from New England down to North Carolina. By adopting the 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, they are setting the example for other fishery management councils around the nation to make similar decisions.
The amendment bans fishing for monkfish by bottom trawling and gill-netting in the Oceanographer and Lydonia canyons, where marine scientists have identified and studied large deep-sea coral communities. The decision 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.
“Today’s vote to protect these magnificent corals shows that good science can lead to good policies that protect the ocean and its wildlife, while allowing fishermen to continue to fish” said Dave Allison, director of Oceana’s Campaign to Stop Destructive Trawling. “We urge the North Pacific and Pacific regional fishery management councils to swiftly develop fishery management plans that protect deep-sea corals and other essential fish habitat in deep ocean canyons from destructive bottom trawling gear.”
Bottom trawling gear, often weighing several tons, clear-cuts the ocean floor and crushes almost everything in its path, leaving in its wake devastation of corals that often takes centuries to recover. 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 are at risk from destructive fishing gear because as more shallow fishing areas are depleted, fishermen increasingly use improved technology to fish in the deeper waters where these corals live. Oceana is working with Congressional leaders to pass legislation that would protect deep-sea corals in all U.S. ocean waters and has filed a petition with the secretary of Commerce to protect deep-sea corals.
“There is only one more step to finalize the decisions made by the New England and Mid-Atlantic fishery management councils,” said Allison. “Oceana urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to approve these decisions as soon as possible.”
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s decision must be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, D.C., and will go into effect for the 2005 monkfish fishery.