June 28, 2006
Bottom trawling ban in Aleutians
The Hawaiian reserve and the Aleutian bottom trawling ban are two great examples of the substance of sustainability law: in both we used "hard" law to draw a clear line protecting biodiversity. The Aleutians example may be even more impressive than the Hawaiian reserve -- it was accomplished through a transparent participatory process and relied upon prevention or the precautionary principle. Katherine Unger of ScienceNOW Daily News reports:
June is proving to be a good month for oceans. Two weeks ago, U.S. President George W. Bush set aside 360,000 square kilometers of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a marine reserve. And today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that more than 950,000 square kilometers of sea floor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska are now protected from bottom trawling, a fishing method that can destroy coral reefs and other marine habitat. The new reserve will be the largest protected area in the United States and the third largest in the world. The ban, published today in the Federal Register, will go into effect on 28 July.In 2002, NOAA scientists discovered "coral gardens"--beds of colorful, varied corals and sponges--up to 350 meters deep in the waters around the Aleutians. Thought to be unique to the area, the diversity of life seen in these gardens rivals that of tropical coral reefs. Like those reefs, the gardens are also vulnerable to trawling, in which fishers drag huge, weighted nets across the ocean floor. Wiping out coral communities and other sea-floor life eliminates habitats for many fish species, including those species that are commercially important such as rockfish and mackerel. NOAA's decision to close the Aleutian waters to bottom fishing follows a recommendation by the organization's North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2005. NMFS Director Bill Hogarth characterized the protection as a "precautionary measure," as current evidence indicates that Alaskan fisheries have yet to significantly affect marine life on the sea floor. Jennifer Washburn of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, which represents trawlers, says that the new proposal shouldn't harm the industry significantly. "A lot of the active fishing grounds have been active for the past 20 years," she says. "So it seems like if they haven't gone there yet, they're not going to be interested." Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist at environmental nonprofit Oceana in Washington, D.C., whose group lobbied for the closure, says that NOAA's action "epitomizes a shift in perspective," as the protection was enacted before any real damage was done. "What really is transformational is to have the fishermen and the council and the conservationists agreeing that enough is enough."
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