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NOAA Expands Seafloor Protection off West Coast Starting January 1st 2020

More than 140,000 square miles of seafloor along the West Coast will be protected from bottom trawling under a plan implemented by NOAA on January 1st, 2020. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) participated in the decade-long review of Pacific Coast groundfish Amendment 28, Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Areas (EFHCA) within Sanctuary waters, providing critical seafloor, coral, sponge and fish assemblage data, vital to the decision to protect sensitive habitats from bottom trawling. More information on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) federal register notice can be found here.

image of map Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Areas within MBNMSMBNMS led a local stakeholder process to develop a collaborative proposal with local trawl fishermen and conservation NGOs, which was submitted to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) in 2013. The sanctuary’s proposal was accepted by PMFC in 2018, and integrated into the coastwide EFHCA modifications. The collaborative approach served as a model and a similar process was implemented along the entire West Coast.

The NMFS final rule includes Groundfish Essential Fish Habitat no-trawl designations that protect approximately 237 sq. st. miles of fragile biogenic habitat. Fourteen new closures were added to EFHCA in MBNMS including three in the northern region that have known higher densities of corals, sponges, sea pens and whips in soft, mixed hard, rocky and high relief habitats. In addition, approximately 99 sq. st. miles in five areas of EFHCA were opened to historically productive fishing grounds.

Also, as part of the rule, it will protect deep-sea habitats beyond 3,500 meters — nearly 2 miles — below the ocean's surface by prohibiting all commercial bottom-contact fishing gear.

In 2017, NMFS and MBNMS conducted several Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) surveys to collect baseline data and/or comparative data on the distribution, abundance, and condition of deep-sea corals and sponge communities. The crew was able to characterize eight EFH proposed areas for closure or re-opening. Recent cruises on NOAA ships have also contributed to current data on remarkable and sensitive habitats.

image of Spotted ratfish on sediment covered rock with brittle stars and other invertebratesSpotted ratfish on sediment covered rock with brittle stars and other invertebrates

Click here to visit the NMFS website to learn more about this action, which changes bottom trawl fishing closures to minimize adverse effects of fishing, re-opens historically important fishing grounds to groundfish bottom trawling, and prohibits fishing with bottom-contacting gear in deep waters off California to protect deep-water ecosystems, including deep-sea corals. Maps are available of all the Groundfish Essential Fish Habitat no-trawl designations on the West Coast, including other West Coast national marine sanctuaries.