In a critical vote today, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council advanced a proposal to protect more than 23,000 square miles of known deep sea coral from North Carolina to Florida from destructive fishing gear. Specifically, the Council voted to adopt the preferred alternative, recommended by Oceana and other conservation groups as well as fishing industry representatives, and proceed with the publication of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). After a 45-day comment period, the Council will take a final vote at its September meeting before sending its recommendation for the "Habitat Area of Particular Concern" (HAPC) to the Secretary of Commerce for adoption.
Oceana issued the following response from senior campaign director Dave Allison:
"Today's vote was five years in the making. The Council should be recognized and commended for its commitment of staff and resources to identify and protect deep sea corals. We now look to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take swift action to adopt permanent protections. The health of our oceans must be the top priority in ocean and fisheries management.
This action is especially important as we have seen in the South Atlantic what happens when the government fails to protect critical habitat. The Oculina Banks off Florida have suffered irreversible destruction from bottom trawl fishing gear.
Deep sea corals are the rainforests of the sea. In too many cases we have bulldozed vital ocean ecosystems. It's like dropping dynamite on the ocean floor. In a matter of seconds, as seen with Oculina, deep sea fishing gear can destroy centuries-old coral.
The Council, in approving the ‘comprehensive ecosystem amendment,' is fulfilling its obligation to identify and protect essential fish habitat. That habitat, including deep sea corals and sponges, is necessary to help ensure healthy fisheries that support fishermen and coastal economies and cultures."
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