The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met the first week of October in Biloxi, MS, to consider Coral Amendment 9, which is focused on protecting 15 Habitat Areas of Particular Concern for sensitive deep sea corals and protecting them under existing federal law.
While we were pleased to see the Council move forward on this amendment protecting coral habitat, we were disappointed to see the Council eliminate key portions of Coral Amendment 9. The Council voted with almost no opposition to entirely eliminate all fishing regulations on two of the 15 areas in the Gulf of Mexico previously designated by scientists on the advisory committee as priority areas for protection. For two other sites, the council also voted to allow bottom long-lining and bottom trawling, two fishing practices with well documented risks to fish and their habitats.
Deep sea corals live in waters that sunlight does not reach and therefore grow extremely slowly. Scientists estimate that some corals are more than 2,000 years old and can provide clues about how our oceans have changed over time. Relatively little is still known about deep sea corals because scientists rely on remotely operated underwater vehicles to reach areas where human divers cannot. We do know that these corals are important habitat for fish and can still be harmed by human activities such as anchoring, bottom long-lining, and trawling. You can read more about deep sea corals in our previous blog series here.
Coral Amendment 9 will go to public hearings in January and will likely be voted on in April 2018. The Gulf Council has shown with these recent meetings that we must keep the pressure up for coral protection. It is vital that we monitor this situation and ask them to listen to their own scientists and protect these corals both for the fish that rely on them and for information they can provide researchers. We need help from people who care about these issues, so email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be involved.