The PEW Charitable Trusts — a global research and public-policy organization — is reporting that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which governs fishing in the Gulf’s federal waters, is considering measures to protect recently discovered patches of deep-water corals in at least 15 areas by restricting the use of certain kinds of fishing equipment, in part to maintain healthy ecosystems to support sustainable fisheries in the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mexico offers great diving in places like the protected Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. But the corals in question are well below recreational depths — primarily from 165 to 660 feet, with some up to 9000 feet. They’re also extremely slow-growing; some are perhaps thousands of years old. They are especially susceptible to underwater pipelines and communications cables that are dragged along the seafloor and kick up sediment, which can suffocate the coral, as well as vulnerable to damage from things like boat anchors and crab traps. Some methods of deep-water fishing, such as trawling (dragging large nets along the seafloor), also stir sediment and break corals.
The public can get a better look at the proposal on the gulfcouncil.org web site, or speak at public meetings in various Gulf states (March 6 in Houma, Louisiana; March 7 in Gulfport, Mississippi; March 8 in Mobile, Alabama; and March 9 in Panama City, Florida). There also will be a webinar comment session March 20, and you can submit comments to gulfcouncil.org.