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Habitat conservation measures working

March 21, 2013
MV Frosti

Coral and sponge bycatch falls in agreement’s first year

The results are in from the first year of a novel fishing agreement that offers increased coral and sponge protection on the British Columbia coast. A review of the first-of-its-kind management measures received the thumbs up from bottom trawlers and environmentalists alike—limits on the incidental bycatch of corals and sponges and freezing the B.C. trawl fleet’s footprint didn’t present fishermen with any notable difficulties. Compliance was high and the total catch of corals and sponges was well below the target established in the agreement.

Healthy coral forests and sponge reefs regenerate ocean life. They are oases where young organisms hide from predators and older ones rest or hunt for prey. But deep-sea corals and sponges are fragile and are easily damaged or destroyed by destructive fishing gear like bottom trawlers’ heavy nets.

Environmentalists clashed with B.C.’s groundfish bottom trawlers for decades until last April when new fisheries management measures came into effect. Living Oceans played a leading role in getting the fishery’s representatives to the table to work collaboratively on the new measures.

“The fishery took a significant step along the road to sustainability when the fleet accepted bycatch limits for each vessel and boundaries that protect the corals and sponges,” said Will Soltau, Campaign Manager, Sustainable Fisheries and Salmon Farming. “It’s the first time anywhere that individual bycatch limits have been used to manage habitat impacts.”

SeaChoice wallet cardSeaChoice is currently reassessing groundfish species caught by the bottom trawlers to see if their ranking can be improved in the consumers’ seafood buying guide.

Shoppers demanding ocean-friendly seafood put economic pressure on retailers and the fishing industry to source and supply products that are less harmful to the ocean ecosystem. In other words, those SeaChoice wallet cards that you’ve been using are working.