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Basket Stars rest on a Bubblegum Coral in Norfolk Canyon / Image: Deepwater Canyons 2013 - Pathways to the Abyss, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS - See more images.


Mid-Atlantic Deepwater Coral Protection

Posted 5 March 2017 by Carol Brighton

Large Offshore Protected Area for Deep-Sea Corals Codified

Covered in a June 2015 Tidewater Current post, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved landmark deep water coral protection measures in Virginia Beach just steps away from the Atlantic Ocean at the Hilton Hotel. Through a scrupulous process that involved multiple meetings and input from stakeholders, a final rule designating The Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area was issued by NOAA in the Federal Register on December 14, 2016 and became effective on January 13, 2017. "This is a great story of regional collaboration among the fishing industry, the Mid-Atlantic Council, the research community, and environmental organizations to protect what we all agree is a valuable ecological resource,” said John Bullard, Regional Administrator for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.

Frank T. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection AreaImage: NOAA - Deep Sea Coral Protection Fact Sheet

The affected areas lie about 100 miles off the coast stretching from Rhode Island to Virginia and include known coral havens and those that are highly favorable coral locations, like deepwater canyons and slopes along the outer continental shelf. In total, the coral zone encompasses more than 38,000 square miles of federal waters off the Mid-Atlantic coast, an area approximately the size of the state of Virginia.

Certain bottom fishing activity around 15 canyons and broader areas deeper than 400 meters will be limited. Within the protected area, commercial fishermen are prohibited from using most types of bottom-tending fishing gear such as trawls, dredges, bottom longlines, and traps. The rule does not apply to recreational fishing, commercial gear types that do not contact the sea floor, or the American lobster trap fishery. The Red crab fishery was exempted from the action in the short term, but some areas could be closed to the fishery in the future. Commercial vessels may transit through the area if fishing gear is stowed and not available for immediate use.

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