Deep Sea Corals Off Coastal Maine Gain Permanent Federal Protection

Example of dense coral garden habitat. Primnoa resedaeformis on near vertical rock walls along Outer Schoodic Ridge. Sponges and sea anemones are often found in between the corals. (National Marine Fisheries Service, University of Connecticut and University of Maine/ NOAA)

Fisheries regulators in the Northeast are permanently putting some 25,000 square miles of seafloor off-limits to some types of commercial fishing, in an effort to protect sensitive deep-sea corals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a final rule this week that bars mobile bottom-trawling gear from vast deep-sea areas along the outer continental shelf off New England and in some smaller areas closer to Maine’s coast.

“The deep sea corals have a very fragile skeleton, and can be broken or displaced with a single pass of these nets, and they won’t recover,” says Gib Brogan, who directs advocacy campaigns for the international group, Oceana.

Brogan says the areas in question don’t see many trawlers right now — but the NOAA designations mark a proactive effort to ward off damaging fishing practices that have emerged elsewhere.

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