140,000-Square-Miles Of Ocean Now Protected Off The Western U.S. Coast

A new piece of the ocean, roughly the size of the state of New Mexico, will be protected along the United States west coast. The newly protected area is 140,000 square miles and will be protected while less sensitive fishing grounds will be reopened thanks to cooperation between conservationists, fishermen, and law-makers.

The area protected is highly sensitive, and include habitats of reefs, pinnacles and coral and sponge aggregations.

The newly protected area was pushed forward by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) with help from Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, and industry leaders Tom Libby and Brad Pettinger.

West Coast Director for EDF Shem Jud said, “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.”

The area that is being closed is known as the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) and smaller closures originally began 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.

In 2011, the fishery adopted catch shares which dropped bycatch by 80 percent and it became clear it was time to update the RCA due to the new system strongly incentivizing fisherman 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.”

The balance of protecting vulnerable areas and species of marine life while ensuring fish can be caught sustainable is a key movement that needs to be addressed as our oceans fish populations dwindle and human population climbs. The efforts set forth by the EDF and fishers prove that balancing both is possible and is an excellent template to use moving forward in other fisheries around the world.

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