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Corals, sponges and deep-sea habitats will be protected by environmentalists groups and fishermen. (Photo: Living Oceans Society/FIS)

Green groups, trawl fishing sector cooperate to protect fishery

  (CANADA, 3/29/2012)

British Columbia (BC) environmentalists and the groundfish bottom trawl fishing industry have together developed innovative measures to conserve corals, sponges and deep-sea habitats. These new measures have been implemented through Fisheries and Oceans Canada's (DFO) Groundfish Integrated Fisheries Management Plan.

Living Oceans Society and the David Suzuki Foundation have been working closely with BC's groundfish bottom trawling industry to develop measures meant to reduce and manage the fishery's impacts on fragile ocean habitats.

These management changes include defined boundaries for the fishery; individual limits on coral and sponge bycatch; a procedure to alert skippers if a bycatch in excess of 20 kg of coral or sponge occurs; and a joint habitat conservation review committee composed of representatives from industry, environmental groups and DFO.

The agreement sets a total annual management objective for the entire fleet at 562 kg for corals and 322 kg for sponges -- the lowest levels established in 15 years.

The total area of coastline trawled will be slashed by 20.6 per cent to 31,633 sqkm, the amount of continental slope habitat trawled to a depth of 200-800 m by 18 per cent to 12,413 sqkm and the amount of deepwater habitat trawled to 800-1,400 m by 65 per cent to 1,395 sqkm, Vancouver Sun reports.

"It's the first time anywhere that individual bycatch limits have been used to manage habitat impacts," said Scott Wallace of the David Suzuki Foundation. "The BC groundfish bottom trawl industry should be congratulated for taking on this new level of individual accountability."

The formation of a long-term collaborative relationship through a formal habitat conservation committee will allow both sides to collaborate to address habitat concerns and ensure the measures are successful.

"The development of the habitat committee is a major step forward by itself," said John Driscoll of Living Oceans Society. "When you view it 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 in some very real and exciting ways."

For the industry, the economic benefits are clear.

"Our markets are increasingly demanding evidence that fisheries are well managed, employ sustainable practices and address ecosystem impacts," said Brian Mose, fisher and member of the Canadian Groundfish Research and Conservation Society. "We know that in order to maintain and expand market opportunities, we need to provide assurances to environmental organizations, retailers, and consumers that we are serious about managing and reducing our impacts on ocean ecosystems."

The conservation improvements are significant: deep-sea corals form forests far below the surface of Canada's Pacific Ocean, offering juvenile fish shelter to hide from predators and for many organisms to feed.

By Natalia Real
[email protected]

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