NOAA says rule would protect Alaska's habitat from bottom trawling – Fishupdate.com

NOAA says rule would protect Alaska’s habitat from bottom trawling Published:  07 April, 2006

A KEY federal fisheries agency has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on March 22 that would close large areas of Alaska’s sea floor to bottom trawl fishing gear in a move to protect sensitive habitat, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

The action by NOAA Fisheries opened a 45-day public comment period on the proposed rule, which stems from recommendations made in February 2005 by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Once such recommendations are made by the council, it is NOAA’s job to write the necessary regulations.

The Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area included in the proposed rule would be the largest protected marine area in the United States: 279,114 square nautical miles, or about the same size as the entire states of Texas and Colorado combined.

In total, the proposed regulations would affect nearly 300,000 square nautical miles off Alaska. NOAA Fisheries analysis predicts only small economic effects on the fishing industry with implementation of the proposed rule because fishermen do not rely heavily on the areas that would be closed.

“Our target is to have the final rule in place by August, but it may be a little sooner than that,” Jon Kurland, NOAA’s assistant regional administrator for habitat conservation, reportedly said. The public comment period ends on May 8.

The ruling would affect primarily Pacific cod and other bottom trawl fisheries.

The habitat areas to be protected include cold-water corals and other sensitive features that are slow to recover once disturbed by fishing gear or other activities. Protecting these relatively undisturbed habitats will help support sustainable fisheries in the future, NOAA officials said.

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