Today, the New England Fishery Management Council, stakeholders from five states that include commercial and recreational fishermen and state and federal government officials, approved a proposal to protect over 25,000 square miles of deep-sea coral habitat in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine from destructive bottom-tending fishing methods. This proposal, which would protect an area roughly equivalent to the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, is part of a coral conservation action to freeze the footprint of destructive fishing as well as protect known deep-sea coral areas from current fishing efforts. The plan approved today was one of two alternatives to conserve corals and was the option that included a smaller area of protected seafloor.
Oceana has been campaigning for more than a decade to identify and protect deep-sea coral areas from harmful fishing gears, and has won victories for corals in both the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific. Most recently, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council protected 38,000 square miles of seafloor in the offshore areas from New York to Virginia. By conserving these habitat areas with high concentrations of corals, the Council is also protecting the larger ocean ecosystem where many commercially and recreationally valuable fish species make their homes.
Oceana Fisheries Campaign Manager Gib Brogan released the following statement after today’s action:
“Today’s action is a strong step for coral conservation, however it is unfortunate that the Council did not select the stronger option that was available to them. The Council missed the opportunity to approve a plan that would have truly stopped the expansion of current fishing and protected more known corals.
Trawls and dredges act like bulldozers on the ocean floor, wreaking centuries-worth of damage in only a few seconds. Protecting deep-sea corals is a win-win for both fishermen and healthy oceans. Healthy coral populations are part of a strong ocean ecosystem that sustain robust fisheries for years to come.
Oceana calls on NOAA to approve the coral amendment and commit to revisit this important action in the near future to ensure that coral conservation in New England is effective and provides these beautiful and ancient corals the protection that they deserve.
Many of the areas protected by this action were explored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Henry B. Bigelow during a 2017 cruise to study corals in both U.S. and Canadian waters in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank regions. Images and video from the expedition can be found here.
The proposed amendment will now be submitted to NOAA for review and approval, with a decision expected later this year.