Today, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved a proposal to protect over 35,000 square miles of ocean habitat, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Kentucky, from trawl and dredge fishing where deep sea corals live. This strategy is part of a coral conservation plan to protect known coral areas from current fishing efforts. Oceana has been working for more than a decade to identify and protect deep-sea corals from harmful fishing gears in United States waters and around the world.
Oceana released the following statement from its Fishery Campaign Manager Gib Brogan:
“The Mid-Atlantic Council should be applauded for taking action to protect fragile corals off the East Coast, from Long Island to North Carolina. Destructive fishing gear can wreak havoc in coral gardens by essentially bulldozing millions of pounds of ancient corals that can take hundreds of years to grow back. By conserving habitats that have high concentrations of corals, the Council is also helping to protect the larger ocean ecosystem where many commercially and recreationally valuable fish species make their homes.
A single pass of a trawl net can do centuries of damage to corals. Fishery managers now recognize that protecting deep-sea corals from the ever-expanding reach of trawls and dredges will help ensure the survival of many other marine animals. Maintaining healthy marine ecosystems also provides essential nursery habitat needed to produce commercially valuable fish populations that many coastal residents depend on for their livelihoods.
With this action, Atlantic deep-sea coral protection is now in place from Florida to New York. Across the country, more than 58,000 square miles of Atlantic coral habitat are now protected. This complements a network of Pacific habitat closures ranging from Mexico to the Arctic on the West Coast.
While the Council’s action is important, fish and marine mammals in the same region are currently facing threats from oil and gas exploration, including from seismic airgun blasting. We hope the Obama administration won’t reverse these important steps to protect deep sea corals by putting the region at risk from the impacts of seismic airguns and offshore oil and gas development.
Oceana now calls on the New England Fishery Management Council to follow the Mid-Atlantic Council’s leadership and act to protect corals all the way to the Canadian border.”
The proposed amendment will now be submitted to the Secretary of Commerce for review and approval. On-the-water action protection of these areas is expected in early 2016.