Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a proposal to protect over 25,000 square miles of deep-sea coral habitat in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine from destructive fishing gear. The action, which would protect an area roughly equivalent to the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, is part of a coral conservation action developed by the New England Fishery Management Council to freeze the footprint of destructive fishing as well as protect known deep-sea coral areas from current fishing efforts. The Fisheries Service is expected to issue a proposed rule that will implement the action on the water.
Oceana has been campaigning for more than a decade to identify and protect deep-sea coral areas from harmful fishing gears, and has won victories for corals in both the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific. Most recently, the Pacific Fishery Management Council took action to conserve similar areas from Washington to California.
Oceana fisheries campaign manager Gib Brogan released the following statement after last week’s action:
“This decision is a strong step forward to protect deep-sea corals, and when final, will stop the expansion of current fishing and protect known corals from southern New England all the way to the Canadian border. Trawls and dredges act like bulldozers on the ocean floor, wreaking centuries-worth of damage in only a few seconds. Protecting deep-sea corals is a win-win for both fishermen and healthy oceans. Healthy corals help sustain robust fisheries for years to come. Oceana looks forward to supporting a strong proposed rule to bring these protections to our oceans.”
Many of the areas protected by this action were explored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ship Henry B. Bigelow during a 2017 cruise to study corals in both U.S. and Canadian waters in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank regions. Images and video from the expedition can be found here.