Council eyes sea coral protection measures

The council last year initiated an amendment to a management plan for Atlantic mackerel, squid and butterfish to protect deep sea corals from impacts of bottom-tending fishing gear in the Mid-Atlantic.

It is aimed at protecting areas known or highly likely to contain deep-sea corals, which provide habitat for many commercially and recreationally important fish species. According to the council, deep sea coral species in the mid-Atlantic do not form large reefs but are fragile and slow-growing, making them vulnerable to physical disturbances.

The proposals include establishing both broad and discrete coral zone areas, and responses ranging from no action to prohibiting all bottom-tending gear.

On Tuesday, members of the council’s ecosystems and ocean planning committee wrestled with how to balance the goal of coral protection with the interests of commercial fishermen. After lengthy debate, committee members voted to add an exemption for short-finned and long-finned squid fishing to the list of proposed alternatives for management measures for discrete coral zones.

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