Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

New management measures protect deep-sea habitat, put B.C. bottom trawlers on the road to sustainability

For decades, environmentalists in British Columbia have clashed with the province’s groundfish bottom trawlers over the damage that the industry has caused ocean habitats. But in March 2012, both sides came together to forge ahead on this issue, and fragile ocean habitats are the big winner. 

Living Oceans Society and the David Suzuki Foundation developed innovative management measures in a collaborative effort with the B.C. bottom trawl fleet. These measures conserve corals and sponges, and reduce the fishery’s impact on deep-sea habitats. Both sides agree that these unique measures represent a significant step forward along the road to sustainability for this fishery.

The B.C. groundfish bottom trawl fishery has fundamentally changed for one basic reason: Every time they set their gear, one of the most pressing concerns for the skipper will be to avoid corals and sponges.

The management changes include:

  • defined boundaries that freeze the fishery’s footprint to areas already trawled
  • individual limits on each vessel’s amount of coral and sponge bycatch
  • a system to alert the entire fleet to the location of any single trawl tow that catches more than 20 kg of coral or sponge
  • a joint habitat committee composed of representatives from industry, environmental groups and DFO to evaluate the measures at the end of each fishing season

It’s the first time anywhere that individual bycatch limits have been used to manage habitat impacts, and we think that these limits are a significant change to the way the fishery operates. We’ve long asked for the trawl footprint to be frozen, and now it is. And finally, the development of the habitat committee is a major step forward by itself. When you view these changes alongside all of the other changes that are being put into place as a result of this effort, it’s clear that this fishery is changing for the better in some very real ways. 

The new management measures have been implemented by DFO in the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for Groundfish.

Living Oceans Society gratefully acknowledges the support of Patagonia.