CEO Note: U.S. protects key habitat in the Pacific | Oceana
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May 4, 2018

CEO Note: U.S. protects key habitat in the Pacific

Gold coral and rockfish


Just last month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to protect more than 140,000 square miles of vulnerable and important ocean habitats from destructive bottom trawling. This announcement was the culmination of years of work and is a major victory for Oceana, our allies and the ocean.

Once implemented, these new measures will more than double the area of seafloor protected in the U.S. Pacific off California, Oregon and Washington. It’s a victory that demonstrates that real, meaningful change is possible — even in the current challenging political environment in the United States — through persistent, focused science-based campaigning.

The new protections cover a staggering variety of unique habitats. For example, they protect a large glass sponge reef near Gray’s Canyon off Washington, rockfish nurseries at Daisy Bank and Arago Reef off Oregon, black coral forests off Northern California, newly discovered Christmas tree corals near the Farallon Islands, deep-sea coral beds in Monterey Canyon, productive offshore banks off Point Sur, California, and recently documented coral gardens, rocky reefs and methane seeps off Southern California.

Bottom trawlers drag heavy fishing gear across the seabed and flatten, crush and capture nearly everything in their path. They clear-cut the ocean floor, leaving deep gashes and long-lasting scars in devastated habitats. Corals and other living deep-sea structures that have grown slowly over hundreds of years are wiped out in seconds. These unique habitats will soon be safe from bottom trawlers thanks to this decision.

Oceana has campaigned to protect these Pacific Ocean habitats from bottom trawling since 2010. We conducted multiple expeditions off Oregon and California, including a 2016 expedition off Southern California that revealed a vibrant living seafloor in areas not previously explored. There, Oceana scientists documented shark egg cases hanging from golden corals, lace sponges, rockfish hidden in previously unidentified reefs, and rare black corals. The photographs, video and scientific data and reports generated by Oceana’s expeditions helped convince the Council to limit bottom trawling in areas coastwide, including 16,000 square miles off Southern California.

The Council’s decision to protect the living seafloor is both ecologically and economically responsible, delivering a win to conservation and fishing efforts alike. These deep-sea environments provide nurseries, food and shelter for fish, octopus, sea stars and other creatures. By protecting these ecosystems, we help restore the oceans to abundance. In addition to the environmental benefits, this healthy ecosystem supports populations of fish that are important recreationally and commercially, including lingcod, sablefish, flatfish, sharks, rays and more than 60 species of rockfish. Meanwhile the Council kept important fishing grounds open to the bottom trawl fishery, and the Council voted to open some areas that were previously closed to bottom trawling.

Oceana partnered with a wide range of groups to win this victory and our coastwide conservation proposal, science and advocacy set the stage for the ultimate outcome. When the Council announced its final decision, the stakeholders present — NGOs, fishermen, scientists, government agencies and more — spontaneously burst into applause.

This victory shows how we can save the oceans and help feed the world through targeted, science-based campaigns. The oceans can feed more than a billion people a healthy seafood meal each day, sustainably, if we manage them responsibly. That means ending destructive fishing practices that threaten the long-term health of the oceans.

Finally, with this new decision in place, more than 90 percent of the U.S. West Coast’s Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 miles from shore) will be protected from bottom trawling – most of these protections resulting from work connected to Oceana’s campaigns. We are, thanks to your help, making real progress.