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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 397:333-340 (2009)  -  DOI:

Managing fishery impacts on deep-water coral ecosystems of the USA: emerging best practices

T. F. Hourigan*

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Habitat Conservation, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA

ABSTRACT: The USA has rich and varied deep-water coral ecosystems. Disturbances from bottom trawls have been well documented in certain habitats and are considered the major threat to deep-water corals in most US regions where such fishing is allowed. Other bottom-set fishing gears (e.g. gillnets and longlines) can also impact these communities. The USA has taken far-reaching action to address these threats to deep-water habitats. Since 2006, the USA has protected nearly 1.8 million km2 of vulnerable benthic habitats from bottom trawling, mostly in the Pacific. Additional major habitat conservation efforts are underway in the US Atlantic. In these efforts, a number of approaches are emerging as best-practices to conserve deep-water corals and other vulnerable marine ecosystems in the deep sea: (1) protecting particularly vulnerable areas, especially seamounts and major identified deep-water coral habitats, from impacts by all bottom-contact gear; (2) defining the current ‘footprint' of bottom-trawl and dredge fisheries in partnership with the fishing community, and preventing expansion of these fisheries into deeper waters until they can be surveyed to identify potentially vulnerable habitats; and (3) using fisheries observers and vessel monitoring systems to provide key information that can inform adaptive management and enforcement. In 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation's primary fishing law, was amended to explicitly allow protection of deep-sea corals in their own right. These approaches are being incorporated into a national strategic plan to comprehensively study and conserve deep-water coral and sponge ecosystems, and may help inform ongoing international conservation efforts.

KEY WORDS: Deep-sea coral · Vulnerable marine ecosystems · Essential fish habitat · Fishing impacts · Trawling · Marine conservation · Marine protected areas

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Cite this article as: Hourigan TF (2009) Managing fishery impacts on deep-water coral ecosystems of the USA: emerging best practices. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 397:333-340.

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