Fishermen & DMR Prepare Response to Fed Coral Area Closures
At a meeting hosted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources on March 4, 2017 in Rockport, fishermen and Maine DMR scientists discussed the federally proposed fishing area closures around Mount Desert Rock and the Outer Schoodic Ridges for the protection of deep sea corals. These two areas are part of a larger group of sea canyons and seamounts, which includes both closed areas and others under consideration for closure in the Gulf of Maine. The actions are part of a federal Omnibus Habitat Management Amendment before the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC).
Deep sea corals are often located at the undersea margins such as the continental shelf. The corals under consideration are long-lived - 100 years to 1,000 years. “When impacted they do not recover in a reasonable amount of time. Several regional councils had taken action before the last Magnuson Stevens Act reauthorization in 2016,” said Peter Auster, a marine biologist at the University of Connecticut who participated in the research at Mount Desert Rock and the Outer Schoodic Ridges.
Auster used a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) to video some areas in these two locations. He focused on soft coral that attach themselves to rocky bottom. The habitat requirements restrict the number of places where soft corals can live. These particular coral need bare rock to attach themselves. The ROVs were operated at between 80 and 100 fathoms around Mount Desert Rock and the Outer Schoodic Ridges.
“These coral can grow tall, providing cover, refuge from currents and provide feeding habitat for species that become food for other species. As predators of zooplankton they are animals.
They lived relatively undisturbed until the introduction of tub trawl fishing in the 19th century and longline fishing in the 20th century,” said Auster. Research on soft coral began with Essential Fish Habitat studies in 1996. Deep sea corals like these are found in all oceans. They fill the same ecological function. Some tropical species are brittle.
Michelle Bachman, NEFMC staffer, is working on the amendment documentation. Bachman said, “As with any amendment the council will be looking at the benefits and costs related to gear types, economic benefit and cost issues as they relate to social impacts on fishing ports.”
She said the council is considering lobster gear and the interaction of various other types of fishing gear in coral habitats. “Because of their slow growth in specific locations they could be at greater risk,” Bachman said. She added, “There is uncertainty in these areas of the knowledge of these animals and the fishing gear used among them.”
“The NEFMC is taking precautionary measures. They may restrict trawls, not fixed gear,” said Bachman.
Over the next month the NEFMC will get information out, especially to the lobster industry, she said. “There is a lot of lobster activity in these areas,” said Bachman. The Maine DMR will be crafting a response to the proposed federal closures. A key issue for lobstermen is the known low impact of their fixed gear. The corals in question grow on the steep rock faces that chacterize the Outer Schoodic ridges.
The NEFMC website has information regarding the Feb. 24 Habitat Committee meeting.
There were habitat workshops with the industry and general public in the second week of March. The NEFMC Habitat Committee will meet on April 14 in Boston at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Boston. The NEFMC meeting on April 24 in Mystic, Connecticut, will discuss and move forward on the amendment.
The following note is from the NEFMC website (http://www.nefmc.org/) regarding corals and the Omnibus Habitat Amendment: The Council is seeking guidance primarily from active fishermen who use trawls, traps or pots, gillnets, longlines, and/or dredges offshore in the Gulf of Maine and in the slope/canyon region south of Georges Bank. The Coral Amendment contains several alternatives that are under development. The Council is looking for: (1) industry feedback on fishing activity within proposed coral protection zones; and (2) help in refining management area boundaries to limit impacts to fishing operations while still providing protection for corals.