OPINION: New protections needed off the coast of San Diego

OPINION: New protections needed off the coast of San Diego

ChesterPh.D., is the California Campaign Director and Chief Scientist at Oceana—the largest nonprofit organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation—and grew up in Carlsbad.

The designation of protected areas in the ocean constantly raises conflict. However, ocean advocates, scientists and fishermen have come together to secure new protections for fragile deep-sea habitats while also restoring fishing opportunities in an area of ​​Southern California waters larger than San Diego County. Legendary fishing opportunities are now within the reach of sport and commercial fishermen, and ancient deep-sea coral reefs can continue to thrive, supporting the health of the ocean from the seafloor up.

For more than 20 years, two large areas of ocean off Southern California totaling more than 5,000 square miles have been conserved for the purpose of recovering an important, overfished fish called the rock cowfish — so named for its large size, reaching nearly 3 feet in length. – And able to live until the age of 55 years. These ocean spaces, known as cowfish conservation areas, have been closed since 2001 to almost all recreational and commercial fishing. One of the two protected areas surrounds the “43-fathom-deep spot” where the sea floor rises thousands of feet from the abyss to the top of an underwater mountain 40 miles offshore San Diego. The second area surrounds the islands of Santa Barbara and San Nicolas, then extends south past the Tanner and Curtis Banks, located more than 100 miles from the Southern California mainland.

The good news is that these protected areas achieved their goal. Driven by science and the law, fisheries managers and anglers have adhered to strict catch limits and blanket area closures that have allowed rockfish cowfish to thrive once again. Now that the area closures have done their work, it is time to thoughtfully open it again for angling, recreational and commercial fishing. But as these fishing opportunities are restored, we also need to ensure that some of the most spectacular coral and sponge gardens known off California are protected.

Brightly colored corals, delicate glass sponges and decorative sea fans are designed together in dense gardens that teem with life beneath the waves of the cool Pacific waters. These fragile seafloor structures are no less important than their tropical counterparts, providing shelter from predators, feeding grounds and nurseries for commercially and recreationally sought-after fish species as well as many other creatures such as sea stars and octopuses.

Representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, commercial and recreational fishing groups and the conservation nonprofit Oceana agreed on a common goal: eliminating two cowfish protection areas to increase fishing opportunities while creating new permanent closures for the areas to protect the most sensitive and important species. Seafloor habitats in the area.

We worked together to design a proposal that would keep eight areas within existing Cowcod Conservation Areas closed to all demersal fishing gear that contacts the seafloor. These selected seafloor safe havens include marine wonders such as Potato Bank, Hidden Reef, Cherry Bank, 43-Fathom Bank, and Seamount 109, which together include about 10 percent of Cowcod’s current protected areas but together will protect nearly half the world’s area. Well-known coral reefs in the area.

This proposal received a vote of approval in March 2023 by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council – a 14-member voting body that makes recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In a welcome victory for ocean conservation and sustainable fishing, the Fisheries Service finalized the regulations on January 1.

Spanning more than 425 square miles, these eight distinct areas are now closed to all commercial and recreational fishing gear that contacts the ocean floor to protect the living seafloor. Meanwhile, more than 4,800 square miles of ocean waters have now reopened to recreational and commercial fishing for demersal species for the first time in more than two decades. Bottom trawling – the fishing practice most damaging to seabed habitats – remains prohibited within Cowcod Conservation Areas. Well-crafted conservation measures combined with science-based restrictions on fishing will help restore the bounty of our oceans, with significant benefits to the ecosystem and to people.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *