Fishery Councils Approve Policies to Protect Fish Habitat from Offshore Drilling and Development | Oceana USA
© OCEANA / Eduardo Sorensen

Last month, the Mid- and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils approved policies to protect important fish habitat from offshore drilling exploration and development. Under federal law, the Councils are given a voice in the management of fisheries in their jurisdictions, which span from New York to Florida and cover the area from three to 200 miles offshore. These Councils play a key role in the stewardship of our oceans, overseeing multi-billion dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries.

Permitting for seismic airgun testing, a technology that uses sound waves to search for oil and gas below the seafloor, is currently underway for an area twice the size of California, stretching all the way from Delaware to Florida. These permits could be approved in early 2016. If they are, marine life living in the area—including fish, marine mammals, turtles and invertebrates—will be at risk from powerful noises that could disrupt their breeding, feeding and navigation. Additionally, the Obama administration is reviewing the possibility of leasing a large area of the Atlantic, from Virginia to Georgia, for offshore drilling.

Each Council now has guiding policies for the management of their jurisdictions that highlight the need to conserve marine life and the ocean ecosystem against the threats posed by oil and gas exploration and extraction. 

Council policy specifics:

Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council: Policy Approved December 7, 2015

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and its Ecosystem and Ocean Planning Committee approved a policy on Non-fishing Activities that Impact Fish Habitat on December 7, 2015. The MAFMC’s policy states,  “The environmental risks associated with offshore oil development and operations are not consistent with the Council’s vision for healthy and productive marine ecosystems supporting thriving, sustainable marine fisheries.” Oceana endorses the MAFMC’s actions to monitor the short-and long-term impacts of oil development on marine ecosystems, including exploration, construction, and operation.

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council: Policy Approved December 11, 2015

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) approved a Policy for the Protection and Restoration of Essential Fish Habitats from Energy Exploration and Development Activities in December 11, 2015. Oceana supports this policy and the Council’s long-term engagement in protecting and restoring essential fish habitat from energy exploration and development activities. Specifically, Oceana supports the SAFMC’s attention to the importance of up-to-date science, habitat, impacts of noise on fish behavior, and endangered and threatened species protection, including concern for migratory areas and breeding activities.        

Oceana applauds the Councils for taking action to protect fish habitat from seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling. Oceana also encourages the Councils to continue engaging in the research and policy processes necessary to protect fisheries and ecosystems from these activities in the Atlantic Ocean.

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