This week, the Alaska Board of Fish voted to close state waters in parts of the Aleutians and Gulf of Alaska to destructive bottom trawling to parallel historic federal protections put in place last summer. Prior to this action, in response to an Oceana petition last spring, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game put in place an emergency order to protect coral gardens from a new state Pacific cod fishery. The recent Board of Fish action expands these protections to much of the nearshore habitat of the Aleutians as well as areas in the Gulf of Alaska.
"The Board of Fish closure is one more patch in the quilt of protection for Alaska's ocean ecosystems," said Jim Ayers, vice president for Oceana. "The federal Aleutian bottom trawling closure is the largest protected area in U.S. waters. Together we've shown that we can protect habitat while maintaining vibrant fisheries. We set the model for the nation and the world."
The State's action follows five years of intense work on the part of Oceana and others to identify locations of corals, sponges, and other living seafloor animals and develop management actions to minimize the detrimental effects of bottom trawling - in accordance with federal law that requires the protection of essential fish habitat - on this lush and productive habitat, particularly in the incredible Aleutian Islands. The Board of Fish action freezes the bottom trawl footprint to historically fished areas, protects the six known coral gardens of the Aleutians, protects Bowers Ridge in the Aleutians from mobile tending bottom gear, and fully protects seamounts in the Gulf of Alaska.
Combined protections on the West Coast now total more than half a million square miles. "This is much greater than just the Aleutians," said Ayers. "It is about maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems and viable sustainable fisheries. It is as much a reflection of our values as a society as it is actual protection for ancient corals."
For more information, please visit www.savecorals.com