-- In an historic move for our nation’s fisheries, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously today to adopt Oceana’s Approach to managing the seafloor off of Washington, Oregon, and California.
The Council action will protect more than 250,000 square miles of seafloor, including much of the lush living corals and sponges of Monterey Bay, from destructive bottom trawling.
Combined with the precedent-setting North Pacific Fishery Management Council decision in February, which closed the largest area in U.S. waters to bottom trawling, today’s council decision will implement Oceana’s progressive and precautionary management approach from Bering to Baja.
"This is a tremendous step toward sustainable living," said Jim Ayers, Oceana's director for the Pacific Region. "While we are still concerned about important known areas of corals and sponges that remain in the open bottom trawling area, this kind of leadership from the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which balances the economy of commercial fishing with conservation of ocean resources, is the keystone to restoring and protecting our oceans."
The Council's action follows three years of intense collaborative work coordinated and lead by Oceana, and including environmental organizations of Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, and Environment California; recreational fishing groups United Anglers and Coastside Fishing Club, and commercial fishing group Pacific Marine Conservation Council.
The Oceana Approach identifies locations of corals, sponges, and other living seafloor animals and applies management actions to minimize the detrimental effects of bottom trawling on this lush and productive habitat. In addition to freezing the bottom trawl footprint to prevent expansion into pristine areas, the Approach protects known areas of biogenic habitat within the footprint, protects special areas such as seamounts and canyons, and calls for ongoing research and monitoring.
Cold-water corals started receiving increased attention in 2002, when Fisheries Service scientists discovered the exquisite coral gardens of the Aleutians in Alaska. At the same time, the National Academy of Sciences released a report documenting the detrimental effects of bottom trawling on seafloor habitat -- particularly on long-lived, slow-growing species like corals and sponges.
Three years and more than 40,000 public comments later, due to the diligence of Oceana and with strong support from other environmental and fishing groups, the Fisheries Service will finally be required to protect the corals, sponges and other similar living seafloor habitat of the Pacific from senseless destruction.
"This is one of the great challenges of our age," said Ayers. "How do we catch fish without destroying the very habitat they depend upon to survive? We can no longer afford to sacrifice the long-term health of our oceans for short-term economic gain. We're spending all the capital and leaving our kids with the tab. We've shown with the Oceana Approach that there is a better way. We can and must do better. The leadership shown by the Pacific Fishery Management Council today takes us in the right direction."
Download a map of the protected area: click here.