Action to Protect Habitat Praised
February 12, 2005
"We may not agree with all the steps taken by the Council," said David Benton, Executive Director of the MCA, "but we applaud the Council for taking action to protect essential fish habitat in Alaska."
At its meeting in Seattle this week, the Council adopted measures to close roughly 375,000 square nautical miles to bottom trawling in federal waters off Alaska. This includes 103,000 square nautical miles already closed by the Council previously. The majority of the new closures were established to protect coral habitats in the Aleutian Islands.
The Council also established numerous site specific Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) which include seamounts and fragile coral gardens, and put in place measures to protect these important habitats as well.
The Council took a long hard look at the need for further action to address habitat concerns," stated Benton. "They already had closed over 100,000 square nautical miles to bottom trawling. That is a huge area, equal to a 100 mile wide band from Mexico to Canada off the U.S. west coast. Now they more than doubled the area protected. The Council just tripled the area closed. This is a major step forward for conservation"
Benton also pointed out that the existing closures cover virtually every habitat type in Alaska waters, but that the Council took additional actions to protect fragile coral areas that had not been previously identified.
"In recent years new scientific data have shown us that there are fragile coral areas that perhaps deserve additional protection, especially in the Aleutian Islands. That is what the Council focused on" said Benton. "It is a very precautionary approach, and provides another example of the ecosystem-based management approach the Council has used for years".
MCA also cited the open and transparent public process used by the Council to develop the proposal. "The Council provided numerous opportunities for the public to participate in the process. They went the extra mile and the end product shows how a well run public process can work," Benton said. He noted that many of the proposals came from environmental groups, including much of the closed areas the Council adopted.
The North Pacific Fishery Council is one of the eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation's pre-eminent fishery law. The North Pacific Council manages fisheries off Alaska, and was recognized by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy as a model for ensuring sustainable fisheries. The USCOP cited the North Pacific because the Council lets the scientists set overall catch levels, and as a result, there are no over fished groundfish stocks in Alaska.
The Marine Conservation Alliance
is a coalition of coastal communities, harvesters, and processors
that live and work in Alaska fisheries. The MCA represents approximately
75% of the fishery participants in Alaska shellfish and groundfish.
MCA promotes science based conservation measures to ensure sustainable
fisheries in Alaska.
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