Largest Area of Ocean in the World Saved From Destructive Bottom Trawling

U.S. Federal Agency Takes Historic Step Toward Saving Our Oceans;

Action Protects America's Marine Jewel: Aleutian Deep-Sea Coral Gardens

Feb 11, 2005, 00:00 ET from Oceana

    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
 international waters.
     "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