ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT IN ALASKA
June 28, 2006
The rule, which implements a February 2005 recommendation from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, establishes a network of fishing closures in the Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. The rule protects habitat areas including cold water corals and other sensitive features that are slow to recover once disturbed by fishing gear or other activities.
"This rule exemplifies a conservative approach to fishery management" said NOAA Fisheries Service Director Dr. Bill Hogarth. "The best available information indicates that Alaska fisheries have no more than minimal adverse effects on seafloor habitats, but NOAA and the North Pacific Council are taking this action as a precautionary measure to support sustainable fisheries." The fishery closures in the new rule have been widely praised as good compromises between environmental groups and the fishing industry to protect essential fish habitat.
The new rule, effective July 28, 2006, closes most of the Aleutian Islands fishery management area to bottom trawling. Most fishing areas that have been trawled repeatedly in the past will remain open. A zone on Bowers Ridge north of Adak will be closed to mobile bottom-contact gear such as trawls, but fixed gear including crab pots will continue to be allowed there.
The rule also closes six small areas that include especially sensitive "coral gardens" to all bottom-contact fishing gear, including trawls, pots, and dredges. These vulnerable coral gardens were discovered by NOAA Fisheries Service scientists in 2002 and have been observed nowhere else.
The Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area established under the new rule alone covers 279,114 square nautical miles-approximately the size of Texas and Colorado combined.
In the Gulf of Alaska, ten areas along the continental slope will be closed to bottom trawling to protect hard bottom that may be important to rockfish. Five small areas in southeast Alaska, in the Fairweather Grounds and off Cape Ommaney, will be closed to all bottom contact fishing to protect dense thickets of red tree corals. Another fifteen areas offshore will be closed to all bottom fishing to protect seamounts.
In a related action, the North Pacific Council is beginning an analysis of potential new habitat conservation measures for Bering Sea fisheries, which may include fishery area closures and/or fishing gear modifications to minimize the effects of trawling on bottom habitats there.
The final rule, maps of the new management areas and copies of the Environmental Impact Statement for Essential Fish Habitat, analysis for Habitat Areas of Particular Concern and much other information may be found on the Alaska Region NOAA Fisheries website at www.fakr.noaa.gov/habitat/efh.htm
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