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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 2, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, March 2, 2017
DMR asks lobstermen for data as coral protection threatens fishing

by Anne Berleant

Will local lobster and crab fishermen bear some of the burden of protecting rare, deep-sea coral? The New England Fisheries Management Council “has prioritized the development of a Deep-Sea Coral Amendment to reduce impacts to corals from commercial fishing activities,” according to a bulletin sent from DMR Zone Council Liaison Sarah Cotnoir on February 22. Targeted areas for the measure include Outer Schoodic Ridge and southwest of Mount Desert Rock, areas used for offshore commercial fishing in winter.

One of the “sub-options” NEFMC is considering is a total ban on fishing, to which the DMR “has strongly objected and proposed to exempt the lobster and crab fisheries” in the Schoodic and MDI areas. It is asking Zone A, B and C fishermen for help in providing data to help show the economic impact a ban could have on local commercial crab- and lobstermen.

While the council voted in January that it was too early in the process of developing the draft amendment to consider an exemption, it “expressed an interest in more data and analyses” of those two fisheries, according to the DMR bulletin.

The DMR has already provided information using Maine Dealer and Harvester Logbook data to estimate the economic impact on closing these areas, but data from fishermen would help “ground” the truth, Cotnoir wrote.

The specific information requested, a chart showing the areas targeted, and the full DMR bulletin, are available at content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MEDMR/bulletins/1887b45.

Atlantic deep-sea coral grows slowly and can live for thousands of years but reefs and gardens have been damaged by bottom trawls fishing, according to information posted on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries website. In April 2016, NEFMC adopted the following statement towards the need for action to reduce the impact to deep-sea coral:

“Deep-sea corals are fragile, slow-growing organisms that play an important role in the marine ecosystem and are vulnerable to various types of disturbance of the seafloor. At the same time, the importance and value of commercial fisheries that operate in or near areas of deep-sea coral habitat is recognized by the Council. As such, measures in this amendment will be considered in light of their benefit to corals as well as their costs to commercial fisheries.”

The NEFMC is looking at commercial fishing activities in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and the Southern New England Region for the coral protection draft amendment.