Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council considering protection of 15 deep sea coral ecosystems on February 11th (online participation)

Deep sea corals.

By Magdalena AK Muir, Editor

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council that sets regulations for fishing off the mid-Atlantic coast will meet on Wednesday February 10 to Friday February 12 to consider protections for little known and fragile ecosystems of deep sea corals in and around 15 ocean sites. It is meeting in Raleigh, N.C., and the amendment under discussion would affect its regulations for mackerel, butterfish and squid fishing. The amendment includes a complex variety of provisions that cover depth, type of fishing and boundaries, but the main items for discussion are protection of the canyons and a set of restrictions for a broader zone. Brad Sewell, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program, said, “If both of these protection zones are approved and go into effect, it would be the largest protected area on the Atlantic Seaboard.”

Environmental groups and sport fishermen are pushing for protection of these canyons and other sites, which run from Block Canyon off New York to Norfolk Canyon off Virginia, from squid fishing. They also are lobbying for other restrictions on fishing in a much broader zone. The squid-fishing industry is opposed to the broader restrictions and has proposed further study and more limited boundaries on four of the canyons, as well as further discussion on the other canyons.  Some of the corals could also be affected by oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, after President Obama said last month that he would open up the region to oil and gas leases. However, different agencies are involved in that process.

Scientists and fishermen have known about the corals for at least a century. They live hundreds of yards below the ocean surface and support diverse communities of life. The areas attract all sorts of marine animals at different times of year, including squid.Researchers and the fishing industry have steadily learned more about the corals since the 1950s, and particularly in the last decade or so as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has used submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to probe the depths and capture new information, images and video.

Peter J. Auster, a marine biologist who is an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut and senior research scientist at Mystic Aquarium, has studied the corals for 30 years and said that they had been found on steep slopes of seamounts and in canyons that were cut into the continental shelf. “These are incredible landscapes,” he said.

Because the corals grow slowly, bottom-fishing for squid and fish could knock them over and the communities would not recover for many years. The canyons that are being considered for protection are, Dr. Auster said, refuges for organisms that used to be more widespread. “The choices are what we do with what’s left,” he added

Deep Water Mid Atlantic Canyons Project: Primary target areas for the Deep-water Mid-Atlantic Canyons project are in and around the Norfolk, Washington, Accomac and Baltimore canyons. Yellow and pink stars are locations where deep sea corals were previously identified. Green, blue, and red circles are locations of previous submersible dives. More information at http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/11midatlantic/welcome.html

Further information (including online participation) in Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s meeting

Council Meeting in Raleigh, NC: February 10-12, 2015.  
Online access to the meeting, enter as a guest at: http://mafmc.adobeconnect.com/february2015/

Briefing Materials

Information on application for advisory panel members for Council (deadline February 27, 2015)


NOAA, Habitat Conservation Division Protection of Deep Sea Corals in the Northeast Region


February Council Meeting Deep Sea Corals Amendment Discussion
The Council is scheduled to review public hearing comments and select preferred alternatives for the deep sea corals amendment on Wednesday, February 11 from 1:00-5:00 p.m


Meeting agenda (highlights only) with full agenda at


Tuesday, February 10 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Research Set-Aside (Cooperative Research) Committee.
Discuss goals for a MAFMC cooperative research program and criteria for evaluating success. Review and decide on a plan of action, including whether the following are needed: additional committee members, a Fishery Management Action Team (FMAT), and/or an advisory panel. Discuss workshop and potential invitees

3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Climate Change and Fisheries – Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management

NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy .Roger Griffis – NMFS. Review Climate White Paper.  Discuss incorporation of climate change and variability into Council fishery science and management programs

Wednesday, February 11 

9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Cost Recovery Amendment.
Review public hearing comments. Select preferred alternatives for submission to NMFS.

1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Deep Sea Coral Amendment.
Review public hearing comments. Select preferred alternatives for submission to NMFS