(16 July 2003 - Raleigh, NC) Environmental Defense and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation today praised the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for approving a plan developed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) that will protect floating sargassum seaweeds in Southeast waters. The action crowns a six-year process to shield one of the most important habitats in southeast waters from commercial harvesting.
"Protecting sargassum will make a lot of fish and fishermen in the Southeast very happy," said Douglas N. Rader, senior scientist with Environmental Defense, who chairs the SAFMC Habitat and Environmental Protection Advisory Panel. "Floating sargassum provides essential habitat for many important recreational fishes as both juveniles and adults, as well as sea turtles and other migratory vertebrates. Protecting this resource from commercial harvesting is a keystone action in restoring the damaged ecosystems and fisheries of the region."
The plan to protect sargassum was designed by the SAFMC to prevent development of a widespread fishery for the seaweed, which has been harvested in limited quantities in recent years as a nutritional supplement and feed additive. NMFS, which disapproved a plan originally adopted by the council in 1998, approved the main elements of a revised plan on July 11th. NMFS had previously determined that the SAFMC's new fishery management plan to protect dolphin and wahoo, important game fishes associated with sargassum, could not be implemented until the sargassum plan was finalized.
"The approval of the sargassum plan protects an important habitat for billfishes and many other offshore species, and now clears the way for measures to conserve dolphin-fish, one of the most valuable recreational species in the southeast," said Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation and a member of the SAFMC Dolphin/Wahoo Advisory Panel. "The South Atlantic Council and regional administrator Roy Crabtree have shown great leadership in working to protect these important ocean resources."">