Fishing nations urged to protect newly discovered cold-water corals
Halifax, Canada – A new WWF study assesses the impact of fishing on three fragile coldwater coral “hotspots” off the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, providing the scientific basis for Canadian and European governments to protect sensitive coral habitat in the Northwest Atlantic.
Based on scientific surveys by Canadian researchers, the study — Cold-water corals off New Foundland and Labrador: Distribution and fisheries impacts — illustrates the distribution of corals and assesses coral bycatch (where fishing gear becomes accidentally entangled in corals) in the six most common deep-water-fisheries off Newfoundland and Labrador.
Three “hotspots” were identified as potential areas for protection. These include the: southwest slope of the Grand Banks; Northeast Newfoundland Shelf edge; and Hudson Strait.
“Our research demonstrates that no matter what type of fishing gear is used, bottom-contact fishing in coral habitat damages corals,” said lead author Dr Evan Edinger.
“It is very important that any areas established to protect corals exclude all bottom directed fishing activities.”
Cold-water corals are long-lived animals that live along continental slopes, seamounts and mid-ocean ridges. They form an important part of deep-sea ecosystems and provide habitat for other invertebrates and fish species. Cold-water corals can be easily damaged by fishing or other seafloor activities, and may take centuries to grow back, if at all.
The study builds on a growing global movement to protect cold-water corals and seamounts. In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly called on fisheries management agencies, like the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), to implement vulnerable habitat protection measures by December 2008.
At an upcoming meeting of the NAFO nations have an opportunity to advocate strict conservation measures for coldwater corals.
“Canada, Spain, Portugal and Russia are the countries that have the greatest potential to damage these globally important concentrations of corals,” said WWF-Canada Vice President Dr Robert Rangeley.
“Their fleets are among the largest operating off Newfoundland and fish in and around the areas identified as hotspots. This also means they have the greatest opportunity to protect them.”
At the NAFO meeting, to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 24 to 28 September, WWF recommends that Canada immediately protects known coral concentrations in the two coral “hotspots” entirely within its jurisdiction: the Northeast Newfoundland Shelf edge and the Hudson Strait
WWF also calls on Canada and NAFO to:
• immediately protect known coral concentrations in the shared jurisdiction of the southwest slope of the Grand Banks “hotspot”
• “freeze the footprint” by closing all areas that are currently not being fished until coral concentrations and other vulnerable areas have been identified and protected
• develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to identify and protect coral concentrations and other vulnerable areas off Newfoundland and Labrador
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