New Bills Aim to Protect Ocean Habitats and Reduce Bycatch Due to Trawling - Oceana USA

New Bills Aim to Protect Ocean Habitats and Reduce Bycatch Due to Trawling

Oceana supports Congressional action to protect deep-sea corals, sponges and other sensitive habitats from bottom trawling, and prevent trawl bycatch of salmon, crab and other species

Press Release Date: May 23, 2024

Location: Washington, D.C.


Jamie Karnik | email: | tel: Jamie Karnik

Representative Mary Peltola introduced legislation to stop federally managed trawl fisheries from scraping corals and sponges off the seafloor and prevent wasteful trawl bycatch. The Bottom Trawl Clarity Act orders the Department of Commerce to stop authorizing bottom trawl fisheries in deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems and challenges regional federal fishery management councils to consult with the public and report back on which areas of the ocean should be zoned for bottom trawling and which areas of the ocean should be protected from bottom trawling.

“Corals, sponges and other seafloor habitats, some of which can take hundreds of years to grow, can be destroyed by the single pass of a trawl net for short term economic gain,” said Jon Warrenchuk, Senior Scientist and Campaign Manager for Oceana. “Representative Peltola is wise to call for the protection of coral and sponge ecosystems and to prioritize fish conservation areas over trawling. We applaud Representative Peltola for stepping up as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council drags its feet and the Gulf of Alaska remains largely wide open to bottom trawling.” 

The Bottom Trawl Clarity Act calls on federal fishery managers to designate “Bottom Trawl Zones” open to trawling while protecting deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems and areas needed for saving fish stocks. All ocean areas outside of a designated Bottom Trawl Zone would be closed to bottom trawling.

Federal fishery managers implemented a similar “open area” approach to bottom trawling off Alaska’s central and western Aleutian Islands where roughly 5% of the area is zoned open to bottom trawling, and the remaining 95% is closed.  Similarly, 90% of ocean waters off the U.S. West Coast are closed to bottom trawling, while areas important to the bottom trawl fishery remain open. In stark contrast, the North Pacific’s Gulf of Alaska is largely open to bottom trawling. Last year, Oceana submitted a proposal to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which would designate 16 zones open to bottom trawling in the Gulf of Alaska, while all other areas, making up 90% of the Gulf of Alaska region, would be closed to bottom trawling. Oceana’s proposal would displace no more than 5% of trawling effort in order to protect known deep-sea coral and sponge habitats.  This is closely aligned with the approach described in Rep. Peltola’s bill. 

According to the National Academy of Sciences, bottom trawling is the single greatest threat to seafloor habitats. Bottom trawl nets as wide as a football field can be up to dragged up to 15 miles along the seafloor during a single tow, gouging the ocean floor and uprooting and often destroying corals, sponges and other sea creatures that can live for centuries.

Rep. Peltola’s second bill, the Bycatch Reduction and Mitigation Act, increases funding for the NOAA’s Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program, designed to help projects to reduce bycatch. Bycatch is the catch-all term for when trawl nets catch and discard countless salmon, crab, halibut, black cod and other fish essential to the lives of many Alaskans as a source of food security, jobs, economic support or as central to subsistence ways of life practiced for millennia.

Trawl nets also can injure or kill marine mammals and other ocean wildlife. Ten orcas were observed dead as bycatch in Bering Sea trawl nets in 2023, alarming fishery managers and the public and generating calls for new measures to protect orcas and other wildlife from trawling.

“Salmon, halibut, crab and other important fish and fisheries are in decline throughout Alaska, yet huge numbers of these same animals are caught and destroyed by trawl nets every year,” said Warrenchuk. “We’re seeing massive changes in Alaska’s oceans and fisheries, and at a time when many are asked to catch less. It’s critical to reduce the wanton waste of bycatch in trawl nets while communities and local fisheries are making huge sacrifices to protect those same species.”

For more information on Oceana’s efforts to protect seafloor habitat in the Gulf of Alaska, please visit