Oceana Takes Federal Habitat Protection Plan Back to Court
Press Release Date: October 5, 2009
Oceana today returned to Federal District Court to force the government to comply with a 2000 court order specifically requiring it to develop options for protecting cod nursery grounds devastated by scallop dredges and other destructive bottom trawls. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s response to this court order, alternatives in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Atlantic Sea Scallop fishery, fails to protect 90% of cod nursery grounds from these gears which devastate the ocean floor.
“The court made it clear that the federal government must consider conservation measures that will preserve seafloor habitats from needlessly destructive fishing practices,” noted Eric Bilsky, senior attorney for Oceana. “Unfortunately, the Fisheries Service chose to ignore this clear directive, so we are headed back to court to make sure that it follows the law and does what is necessary to ensure the future of the historically vibrant New England cod fishery.”
In September 2003 the New England Fishery Management Council approved Amendment 10, even though its EIS contradicted the court order and failed to provide well-designed and scientifically-sound options to protect known sensitive cod nursery areas. In doing so, the federal government ignored over a thousand comments from scientists, cod fishermen, and conservation groups. The government’s own habitat scientists criticized the proposed options in the EIS for not being based on sound science and for failing to protect those habitats most sensitive to trawling and dredging.
Each year, scallop dredges pulverize an area of the ocean floor roughly equal to the areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Federal scientists have determined that bottom trawling and scallop dredging cause significant, long-term harm to juvenile cod habitat and other complex marine habitats like corals and sponges. It can take over a decade for such habitats to recover from even one pass of a trawl or dredge.
“The plan will open vast marine habitats to the bulldozing force of two-ton scallop dredges,” said Chris Zeman, New England Fishery Program Counsel for Oceana. “This sham plan reinforces the claims by many leading ocean experts that the present industry-dominated management system is inept at managing this extremely valuable public resource.”
Oceana requested that the court rule that the EIS fails to meet the requirements of the 2000 court order.
Healthy cod nursery grounds are vital to New England’s historic fishing industry. While scallop catches are at historically high levels, partially because they thrive in damaged habitats, cod populations remain low, especially among juvenile cod. “Fish are wildlife, and just like wildlife on land, they will not prosper unless they have healthy and abundant habitat,” Bilsky explained.
In a separate fishery management plan – Groundfish Amendment 13 – NMFS recently proposed to allow the commercial fishery to continue overfishing cod for years. This decision once again directly contradicts the recommendation of NMFS’ leading fishery scientists. “Fishery managers have decided to wipe out the adult cod, and at the same time bulldoze baby cod nursery areas,” said Zeman. “New England’s historically magnificent codfish can’t withstand this double blow, and may meet the same fate as other decimated cod populations in Canada and Europe.”
Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the world’s oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana’s constituency includes members and activists from more than 150 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world’s marine environment. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas, a South American office in Santiago, Chile, and a European office in Madrid, Spain. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org.