Bottom Fishing Ban Moves Ahead

OCEAN CITY — Federal fisheries authorities last month voted to prohibit destructive trawling, dredging and long-line fishing off the mid-Atlantic coast to protect undersea canyons where rare, deep sea corals have been located and identified.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council late last week approved an amendment to protect deep sea corals from the impacts of bottom-tending fish gear in the mid-Atlantic in a vast 38,000 square mile area from Virginia to New York, including some of the canyons off the coast of Ocean City. The council’s approval of the amendment now sends the measure to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.

The amendment creates “deep sea coral zones” in areas off the mid-Atlantic coast where corals have been observed or where they are likely to occur. Within the identified zones, fishermen will not be allowed to use any type of bottom-tending fish gear such as trawls, dredges, bottom long-lines and traps. In total, the areas proposed for deep sea coral zone designation encompass over 38,000 square miles, or an area roughly the size of the state of Virginia.

“This historic action by the Council was made possible by the cooperation of  a broad group of fishermen, advisors, coral researchers, conservation groups, Council members and staff,” said Council Chairman Rick Robins. “Many people deserve credit for the collaborative efforts to refine the coral protection areas in a way that protects deep sea corals in our region while accommodating current fishing practices.”

The council voted to prohibit all bottom-fishing gear in 15 canyons off the mid-Atlantic coast, some of which are thousands of feet deep. The measure, if approved, would also protect all other areas of the sea floor more than 450 meters, or roughly 1,500 feet deep from southern Virginia to New York. \

“Beneath the ocean’s surface there still lie worlds that are abundant with life and rare biodiversity that we have barely explored, but that are increasingly in jeopardy from commercial fishing boats that could scrape and dredge it all into a desert wasteland,” he said. “The Mid-Atlantic Council took a great stride toward protecting the critical ecosystems formed by rare and ancient cold water corals found deep on the ocean floor and canyon walls that provide habitat to a wealth of deep sea ocean creatures, some of which we are just discovering for the first time.”