Oceana Report Describes Threat to South Atlantic Gulf Ocean Habitat by Deep-Sea Trawls | Oceana

Oceana Report Describes Threat to South Atlantic Gulf Ocean Habitat by Deep-Sea Trawls

Press Release Date: October 1, 2009

Location: Key West, FL


Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

Today Oceana published a report showing that three trawl fisheries, calico scallops, rock shrimp and royal red shrimp, pose an increased threat to South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico deep-sea habitat. The report is being released at this week’s meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in Key West, Fla., where state and industry representatives will discuss a fishery ecosystem plan that could include conservation measures for these three fisheries.

Oceana published this report as part of its work to limit destructive trawling, especially bottom trawling and scallop dredging, in areas of the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, where it coincides with vulnerable ocean habitat including deep-sea corals and reef banks.

“Scientists continue to discover amazing and diverse coral and sponge habitat in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico,” explained David Allison, director of Oceana’s Campaign to Stop Destructive Trawling. “This sensitive habitat could be destroyed by heavy trawl nets as increased pressure forces the calico scallop and rock and royal red shrimp fisheries to search in deeper waters for their catch. Once the habitat is destroyed, it will take hundreds of years to replace.”

Deep sea trawl vessels travel regularly between waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast United States and operate in fairly discrete depth ranges in pursuit of calico scallops, royal red shrimp, and rock shrimp. The amount of deep sea trawling changes dramatically from year to year depending on seafood prices, fuel and other costs, natural population changes, and frequent entry and exit from the fishery by fishermen according to the health of other fisheries.

“Even the most basic management plan is absent for royal red shrimp in the South Atlantic and for calico scallops in either region, which is irresponsible since the gear used in this fishery can harm deep-sea habitat when used in vulnerable habitat,” said Margot Stiles, Oceana’s marine scientist and primary author of today’s report. “The best first step is the “allowable gear zones” proposed by the South Atlantic Council in their fishery ecosystem plan. These zones would be set aside for trawling, and prevent future expansion into unknown areas of deep sea corals.”

The report, “Deep Sea Trawl Fisheries of the Southeast US and Gulf of Mexico,” provides a snapshot of each fishery for consideration in their future management, including the habitat for each species and a description of the fishery, including history, location, management, fleet movement, and potential for growth. It also includes maps of potential habitat and core fishing grounds. The information for this report came from the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council documents, scientific literature, and interviews with fishermen, seafood dealers, restaurants, council staff, and staff of NOAA Fisheries.