Rockfish surround primnoa red tree corals in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington © NOAA
Using science, law, and an open public process, Oceana has developed a management approach that protects living seafloor habitat while maintaining vibrant fisheries for healthy, sustainable ocean ecosystems.
The Oceana Approach is straightforward and uses all available information to protect and preserve living seafloor habitat:
The Oceana Approach provides responsible stewardship of public resources by protecting essential fish habitat while maintaining vibrant sustainable fisheries and has since been formally adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems.
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) is waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity, and covers all habitat types utilized by a species throughout its life cycle. EFH includes vibrant and beautiful coral and sponge structures as they are critical to supporting healthy populations of groundfish species—like rockfish, Pacific Ocean perch, lingcod, and Pacific cod— and non-commercial marine life like sea stars, nudibranchs, octopuses.
In accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management Act (the law guiding management of U.S. fisheries), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is tasked with identifying EFH, determining if adverse impacts to EFH are occurring from commercial fisheries, mitigating adverse impacts to EFH, and responding to public comments. This process was first implemented by NMFS in 2006 and the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is required to review and consider changes to EFH regulations every 5 years. The current EFH review began in 2010, and in 2013, the Pacific Fishery Management Council released a Request for Proposals for EFH regulation changes. In response, Oceana submitted a comprehensive proposal to NMFS. In April 2018, the Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to adopt a modified version of Oceana’s comprehensive conservation proposal that will protect more than 140,000 square miles of seafloor habitat off the U.S. West Coast from bottom trawling, including deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems, rocky reefs and productive submarine canyons. This includes safeguards for 53 new and modified “essential fish habitat” conservation areas, including more than 16,000 square miles of seafloor habitat off Southern California—spanning from Point Conception to the U.S./Mexico border. Once implementing regulations are issued by NOAA Fisheries, the Council’s action will more than double the spatial extent of current seafloor protections off the U.S. West Coast. Learn more about the decision here.
NOAA and the regional fishery management councils also identify “habitat areas of particular concern” or HAPCs. These are considered high priority areas for conservation, management, or research because they are rare, sensitive, stressed by development, or important to ecosystem function.