Trawlers Barred From 75 Percent of U.S. West Coast Waters

FOSTER CITY, California, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - The fishing trawlers that drag large nets and heavy equipment across the ocean floor, scooping up all bottom fish and leaving little in their wake, will no longer be allowed to operate in more than 75 percent of the ocean within U.S. jurisdiction off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Wednesday night, the 14 member Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously approved closures to commercial bottom trawl fishing before a packed crowd at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Foster City.

Their decision will protect about 200,000 square nautical miles of marine habitat on the West Coast between the Canadian and Mexican borders - an area roughly one and a half times the size of California.


Trawler plies the waters off the coast of Oregon. (Photo credit unknown)
One of eight regional fishery management councils established by law, the Pacific Council is responsible for management of marine fisheries from three to 200 miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.

The Pacific Council voting membership includes commercial, recreational, and tribal fishing representatives, directors of state fish and wildlife agencies from California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The U.S. Coast Guard has a non-voting seat on the Council, as do the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the State of Alaska, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. State Department.

The Council action, taken to protect the habitat of over 80 species of groundfish, was applauded by both environmental conservation organizations and fishing industry groups.

Director of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association Pete Leipzig said, “The Council gave the fishing industry views a fair shake in this decision. We can now move forward with business plans for productive fisheries. The seafood-consuming public will benefit from this decision.”

The Fishermen's Marketing Association represents commercial groundfish and shrimp fishermen from San Pedro, California to Bellingham, Washington, 63 vessels in total.

Brad Pettinger, executive director of the Oregon Trawl Commission said, “The fishing industry and the coastal communities want to do what is necessary to protect the habitat and fish stocks for the long run. We have more at stake in this than anyone.”

Jim Ayres, fisheries conservation director for Oceana, said, “This action will not only make things better for those dependent on current fisheries, but also provides security for future generations, as well. We have worked hard on this proposal for over five years, and this decision makes the money and time spent well worth it.”

The Pacific Council also acted to provide protection for three marine sanctuaries in California - the Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries.

In the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the action provides for no-fishing marine reserves in a network of eight areas in waters three to six miles offshore.

Marija Vojkovich, acting for the California Department of Fish and Game Director in this decision, said, “This action, in combination with complimentary landing laws that the State of California will enact, will ultimately complete the network of marine reserves we envisioned in late 2003 with regard to fishing impacts. We expect that National Marine Sanctuary authorities will add the necessary protection from non-fishing impacts.”

In addition to closing areas to fishing, the Pacific Council took action to formally identify essential fish habitat for groundfish, establish habitat areas of particular concern for future management considerations, and institute research and monitoring mechanisms.


A trawler brings in a loaded net. (Photo courtesy Alaska Fisheries Sciences Center)
The decision also protects fragile deepwater coral and sponge habitats.

"The Council has taken an important step towards protecting fragile areas essential to fish and other wildlife," said Chris Dorsett, director of regional fish conservation for The Ocean Conservancy. "This decision will keep the most damaging fishing gear away from critical, yet sensitive marine habitats such as rocky reefs and deepwater corals."

“A tremendous amount of scientific and policy analysis was brought to bear for this decision,” said Steve Copps, a senior policy analyst for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “The combination of a unanimous vote and broad support for habitat protection demonstrates the long process on this matter was effective and successful.”

In February, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council set a precedent by protecting nearly 370,000 square miles of marine habitat near the Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

Actions adopted by the Pacific Council will be incorporated in a final Environmental Impact Statement being completed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and implemented by May 2006. Details of the actions, including maps of the areas closed to bottom trawling, will be available on the Council website in the near future.