EDF and Fishermen Help Secure 140,000-Square-Miles of New Ocean Protections

Win-win outcome also expands sustainable fishing opportunities

April 10, 2018
Matthew Smelser, (202) 572-3272, msmelser@edf.org

(Portland, Oregon) A vast swath of sensitive ocean habitat larger in size than the state of New Mexico will be protected while less sensitive fishing grounds will be reopened thanks to cooperation between conservationists, fishermen and policy decision-makers, EDF announced today.

The plan, approved this week by the Pacific Fishery Management Council will permanently protect 140,000 square miles of ocean off the West Coast while opening 2,000 square miles of previously closed fishing grounds that have now been found safe for fishing. EDF joined with Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, and industry leaders Tom Libby and Brad Pettinger to convene more than 30 meetings up and down the coast to get input on this issue. 

“This is compelling conservation because it recognizes that teamwork between conservationists and fishermen, coupled with strong science, can lead to major changes that make our west coast groundfish industry more sustainable, resilient and profitable over the long term,” said Shems Jud, West Coast director for Environmental Defense Fund’s oceans program. 

The closure, known as the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA), was implemented in 2002 to minimize catch of overfished species, such as darkblotched and canary rockfish. While the RCA covered areas of sensitive, high value habitat like underwater cliffs, rock piles and pinnacles where several of the depleted species congregate and reproduce, it also prevented access to vast areas of sandy, soft-bottom seafloor where more plentiful target species like Dover sole and sablefish are found.
When the fishery adopted catch shares in 2011 discarding of bycatch dropped 80 percent and it became clear it was time to update the RCA, because the new system strongly incentivizes fishermen to avoid overfished species. 

“We knew that if we could identify currently unprotected areas of sensitive habitat, including areas inside the RCA, the Council could protect those areas while opening up valuable fishing grounds,” said Jud. “We worked together to combine information from  new academic studies, fisheries observer data, and modeling with fishermen’s logbooks, charts and knowledge gained from decades of combined fishing experience.”

“This was an amazing team effort, with fishermen and environmentalists focused on the goal of opening up closed fishing grounds and carving out the areas that really need protection,” said Ralph Brown, a fisherman from Brookings, Oregon. “I’m looking forward to going back to some of my old favorite fishing grounds.”

The Council’s final decision included: 

•    Opening up 2,000 square miles of highly productive, soft-sediment fishing grounds in the former Rockfish Conservation Area;
•    Permanently protecting more than 10,000 square miles of sensitive, priority habitat such as reefs, pinnacles and coral and sponge aggregations;
•    Establishing new protection for an un-fished, deep-water area off California that is the size of New Mexico (roughly 130,000 square miles).

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