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Deep sea corals – One step back, two steps forward?

The deep water coral Madrepora oculata, from the Straits of Florida (image courtesy Reed 2006)

Dec. 7th was a cold dark day for deep cold-water corals, as the UNGA formally adopted its resolution negotiated last month in New York through the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS). Sadly, a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas was NOT adopted. Such a moratorium would have greatly enhanced deep water coral protection worldwide where unregulated high seas deep water trawlers are known to scrape the tops of seamounts, destroying these fragile and long-lived ecosystems. As the chaff falls, we know one thing, this issue will not die.

Excerpt from the statement on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Nations, made by Palau (Dec. 7th):

“We are very disappointed that some States were unwilling to support such an approach. We consider that an interim prohibition would have been the clearest and most effective means for dealing with the impacts of bottom fishing in areas where there are no multilateral measures in place, and none in prospect. An interim prohibition would have further encouraged the development of new RFMOs for unregulated areas. We were further disappointed that a small number of States were not willing to consider a freeze on the expansion of bottom fisheries in unregulated waters from current levels. We believe this goes against the intent and spirit of many of the measures agreed in this year’s resolution. . . . . .”

Trawling Moratorium Dead in the Water

However, two days later (Dec 9) within the final few hours of the 109th U.S. Congress legislation was passed that establishes a new national policy for the conservation of deep sea coral ecosystems. The coral provisions give our regional fishery management councils unambiguous discretionary authority to protect deep sea coral ecosystems and establish a deep water coral research program at NOAA (subject to appropriations). Such deep water coral legislation is a major marine policy focus at MCBI.

MCBI press release – Congress Passes Legislation to Protect Deep Sea Corals from Fishing Gear

For exact text go to: Search Thomas (enter “H.R. 5946” in the search bar, see listing 2 (phrase exactly as entered.), sections 105 and 211 for the deep water coral provisions)

Posted by Steven Lutz