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Fishery managers and many environmental organizations rely on scientific analysis to address seafood sustainability problems such as the health and abundance of a particular fish stock, or the health of a marine ecosystem or habitat.
The issue of protecting corals in the Bering Sea Canyons became of interest to many retailers and a number of companies were solicited to write letters to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on this issue by one of the major environmental organizations.
At its meeting in October, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took action to conclude a nearly decade-long public process to understand the distribution and abundance of deepsea corals in the Bering Sea, and to determine whether additional protective measures are needed.
The council determined that coral density in the Bering Sea was low, roughly on the order of 26 individuals per football field, while in the Aleutian Islands, where protections are in place, the coral density is from 6,435 to 20,143 in a football field.
Further, the Council said that the average height of coral in the Bering Sea was 8 inches or less. The net result is that the impact of fishing gear on coral was extremely low. Although damage was noted on invertebrates (sea whips, corals, sponges) in 27 percent of the survey transects, and fishing gear indications were noted on 24 percent of the transects, these mostly did not occur together. The council said 97 percent of the observed damage to invertebrates was due to natural, not manmade causes.
'Unprecedented' Camera Survey Yields 'Definitive Results'
The Council concluded: “The evidence shows low occurrence and density of deep-sea corals, lack of substrate to support corals, and low vulnerability to fishery impacts of existing deep-sea corals in these areas.”
Accordingly, it voted unanimously not to impose fishing bans or other habitat protective measures, but instead, to monitor the coral abundance and fishing activity into the future to see if the situation changes.
The ten year research effort that culminated in an unprecedented camera survey of the entire Bering Sea continental slope was one of the most thorough scientific investigations ever undertaken in the North Pacific, and produced some of the most definitive results.