Off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, a secret world of brilliantly colored deep sea corals, sponges, anemones, and other life exists. Among these creatures live numerous species of fish, shellfish, crabs, and other marine life seeking shelter from predators, food, and a place to grow. But it only takes a moment for destructive bottom trawling to obliterate these sensitive communities. Corals (taking hundreds or thousands of years to mature) get crushed or toppled by heavy nets and ropes that sweep the seafloor clean in search of bottom dwelling ground fish.
When a forest is clear-cut, it can take decades to grow back. But when the seafloor is clear-cut by bottom trawl nets, it can take much, much longer, as life grows back at a much slower pace in the ocean. That is why our nation’s fishery law requires those who manage fishing activities to safeguard sensitive seafloor from the impacts of bottom trawling. These places, designated as Essential Fish Habitat, are protected from destructive fishing techniques. Our managers are required to evaluate the need for Essential Fish Habitat every five years – but five years ago they did nothing to protect sensitive areas. It’s time to rectify that mistake.
Please tell the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the federal managers of fisheries at the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect these incredible but vulnerable places in the ocean off the West Coast. Thank you!!
I support the Essential Fish Habitat proposal made by the Marine Conservation Institute to you in August 2013 to place up to twenty-nine new areas off limits to bottom destroying fishing, especially bottom trawling. As you know, bottom trawlers and sometimes even mid-water trawlers drag heavy nets across the bottom as they seek to catch fish that live on or near the bottom of the ocean. Since you protected significant areas of deep water habitat in 2005, scientists have identified numerous additional sensitive ocean places and understand better why they should be protected from bottom trawling and other damaging fishing methods. Scientific literature on the value of these seafloor habitats and where they occur has expanded vastly since you last designated Essential Fish Habitat off the West Coast.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are required to reconsider areas and measures protecting Essential Fish Habitat every five years; the last review in 2010 ended with no additional areas protected. Now, almost five years later, I urge you to consider the new areas proposed for protected status by Marine Conservation Institute.
By its very nature, the designation of an area as Essential Fish Habitat means that it is important to some life stage of one of our fishes, a place where reproduction, growth or continued survival occurs. I urge you to use the best available science, including the maps generated by the Marine Conservation Institute, in determining where to protect additional areas of the Pacific coast seafloor for future generations. Your meeting in November to consider this and other Essential Fish Habitat proposals is thus a very important opportunity to restore our oceans to health and retain their resilience in face of the climate threats ahead.