SEATTLE, Feb. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- In an historic victory for protecting our
oceans, and the largest such action taken anywhere in the world, U.S.
authorities have closed off to destructive commercial fishing nearly one
million square kilometers of north Pacific Ocean surrounding the Aleutian
Islands of Alaska, an area equal to Texas and California combined. The
protected area includes exquisite deep-sea coral and sponge gardens off the
Aleutians, a site that scientists call unique on Earth.
In doing so, authorities adopted Oceana's approach to ocean management, a
move that the international ocean conservation group called a signal moment
for the oceans. It was also the first time in our nation's history that such
a large-scale fishing-gear ban has been adopted to protect seafloor habitat,
instead of due to crashing or declining fish stocks.
"This decision shows the importance of using science to save unique and
essential ocean sites, such as the seafloor in the Aleutian Islands, one of
our nation's marine jewels. Now we need the other fishery management councils
to take similar steps," said David Allison, director of Oceana's campaign to
Stop Destructive Trawling. "Those of us who work to save the oceans have much
to celebrate today. In any struggle there is a key moment, a turning point:
today was such a day. This is a visionary decision for which future
generations will give thanks."
The unanimous vote by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the
federal agency in charge of managing that area of Pacific Ocean off America's
northwest coast, follows three years of intense work -- and a successful
lawsuit -- on the part of Oceana and other groups. Oceana's work centered on
identifying locations of corals, sponges, and other living seafloor animals
and developing management actions to minimize the detrimental effects of
bottom trawling -- in accordance with federal law that requires the protection
of essential fish habitat.
The Council voted unanimously Feb. 10 to adopt Oceana's approach to
protect 960,495 square kilometers of seafloor from destructive bottom
trawling, a commercial fishing practice that drags heavy nets across the ocean
bottom, destroying nearly everything in its path. The vote included 380
square kilometers banned to all bottom gear contact in the deep-sea coral and
sponge gardens in the Aleutian Islands, and 7,156 square kilometers of
seafloor in the Gulf of Alaska banned to bottom trawling.
It was the latest action in a new trend in ocean management, an ocean-
protection approach called for in the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 and in
two recent ocean commission reports. The ocean protection set by other U.S.
regional fishery management councils, which have also taken steps to protect
deep-sea coral and sponge areas from bottom trawling, used traditional systems
of management. The Oceana Approach adopted in the North Pacific with this
recent action sets an example for the Bering Sea ecosystem, for councils that
have not yet taken action to protect deep-sea corals and other essential ocean
habitat, and for international bodies seeking to ensure the ocean health in
"This is a tremendous victory for sustaining America's oceans," said Jim
Ayers, Oceana's director for the Pacific Region. "While we are still
concerned about important known areas of corals that remain in the open bottom
trawling area, this kind of leadership from the North Pacific Fishery
Management Council that maintains vibrant fisheries while protecting ocean
habitat is the keystone to restoring and protecting our oceans."
In addition to freezing the bottom trawl footprint to historically fished
areas, the Council also requested a comprehensive plan for research and
monitoring, which was one of the key elements of the Oceana Approach to
managing Aleutian Islands bottom trawl fisheries.
Supporting more than 450 species of fish, millions of seabirds hailing
from all seven continents, 25 species of marine mammals, and unique lush coral
gardens, the Aleutian Islands Archipelago is a national treasure. The same
productivity that has supported the Aleut people for centuries is also the
focus of large scale commercial fishing, and that kind of resource
exploitation is not always compatible with sensitive habitat or sustainable
"The Aleut people have lived for centuries off the bounty of the sea,"
said George Pletnikoff, an Aleut fisherman. "My grandfather told me stories
of oceans full of life. I hope those stories become reality again for my
grandchildren instead of fading into legends. We need to always keep the
long-term vision of prospering oceans. The Council action to limit bottom
trawling and protect our seafloor is a huge step in the right direction.
Ensuring sustainable fisheries ensures the stability of our culture and
In 2002 the National Marine Fisheries Service scientists discovered the
exquisite coral gardens of the Aleutians. At the same time, the National
Academy of Sciences released a report documenting the detrimental effects of
bottom trawling on seafloor habitat -- particularly on long-lived, slow
growing species like corals and sponges. It was also the year that the
Fisheries Service was required to do an Environmental Impact Statement in the
North Pacific to evaluate the effects of fishing on essential fish habitat.
Three years and 33,000 public comments later, due to the diligence of
Oceana, the commitment of other ocean conservation groups in Alaska -- such as
the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the Alaska Oceans Network, and The
Ocean Conservancy -- expressions of concern by people all across America and
the vision of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Fisheries
Service will finally enact real protections for the Aleutian Islands coral
gardens and other vulnerable habitat from senseless destruction.
"This is one of the great challenges of our age," said Ayers. "How do we
catch fish without destroying the very habitat they depend upon to survive?
The Council decision is right in line with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy
recommendations to consider the ecosystem when making management decisions.
It is a good day for Alaska's corals."
Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world's oceans. Our teams of
marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete
policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of
fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and
dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America
(Washington, D.C.; Juneau, AK; Portland, OR; Los Angeles, CA), Europe (Madrid,
Spain; Brussels, Belgium) and South America (Santiago, Chile). More than
300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined
Oceana. For more information, please visit http://www.Oceana.org.