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Activists Hail Federal Ban on Trawl Fishing

Action, affecting nearly 300,000 miles of Pacific waters, seeks to protect sea-floor habitat.

June 16, 2005|From Associated Press

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Federal fishery regulators voted Wednesday to permanently ban trawl fishing in nearly 300,000 square miles of Pacific waters, a move environmentalists hailed as a landmark in marine conservation.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates West Coast fishing, chose a plan that would ban bottom trawling in depths beyond 700 fathoms (about 4,200 feet) as well as dozens of shallower areas believed to be critical habitat for groundfish such as rockfish, ling cod and Dover sole. The regulations apply in federal waters that extend from 3 miles to 200 miles off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

The plan is aimed at protecting coral beds, kelp forests, rocky reefs and other sensitive fish habitat from trawling, which involves dragging weighted nets on the ocean floor to scoop up bottom-dwelling species.

"It's a huge victory for conservation," said Jim Ayers, Pacific region director for Oceana, which developed a plan similar to the one chosen. "It maintains economic opportunity for today's commercial fishermen, but more importantly, it ensures economic opportunity for future generations."

Trawl fishermen were skeptical that the regulations would boost declining stocks of groundfish, but did not think that the ban would hurt their livelihoods because most of the restricted areas are too deep for trawlers.

"I think the council's selection minimizes the negative impact on the fishing industry," said Pete Leipzig, who heads the Fishermen's Marketing Assn., which represents groundfish and shrimp trawlers. "People wanted this knowledge that people won't go fishing there, but people don't go fishing there anyway."

Environmentalists say trawling destroys delicate sea-floor habitat where groundfish and other marine organisms feed and spawn.

But fishermen say there is no evidence that trawl fishing has affected the productivity of groundfish stocks that make up the foundation of West Coast commercial fishing.

The 14-member council chose the plan from more than a dozen proposals that were offered by environmentalists, fishermen and other interest groups. The council will recommend action to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is expected to implement the regulations next year.

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