Environmental group seeks to prevent trawling in SoCal Bight

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — An environmental advocacy group’s request to protect the deep sea floor off the Southern California coastline from trawling activities has gained the support of federal legislators and state officials.

Oceana formally requested the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to prohibit trawling, or bottom contact fishing, activity in waters deeper than 3,500 meters (about 11,500 feet) between the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego and Pt. Conception near Goleta.

The council reviewed the proposal at its November meetings in Portland, Oregon.

Trawling is not common in the area where Oceana seeks to have the activity prohibited, but the organization hopes proactive or preventative action taken now can help local legislators and regional officials protect marine wildlife from potential future harm.

“We have an opportunity to implement a precautionary management approach to a truly unique ocean habitat which will ensure that the Pacific Ocean off Southern California continues to be a global hotbed for marine wildlife by eliminating the threat of bottom trawling on the seafloor,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in a letter to PFMC’s Chair supporting Oceana’s proposal.

“It is timely and crucial that we continue to develop new innovative ways to prepare, manage and mitigate changing ocean conditions caused by climate change along our coastlines, and develop policy programs to research issues such as ocean acidification and hypoxia,” Newsom continued. “Protection of pristine deep sea habitat found in the Southern California Bight is essential for data collection and understanding California’s greatest ally – the Pacific Ocean.”

Several members of the House signed off on an Oct. 7 letter to the assistant administrator of NOAA Fisheries to express their collective support of the Oceana proposal.

“We support action to protect the deep-water ecosystem off California from all bottom contact fishing gear using [Magnuson-Stevenson Act] authority,” the letter stated.

Reps. Ted Lieu, Grace Napolitano and Maxine Waters were among the 10 representatives who signed the Oct. 7 letter.

A marine laboratory professor and scientist at Humboldt State University said legislators and officials are warranted in enacting proactive and adaptive management approaches to protect deep-sea habitats.

“Ocean ecosystems face major stressors, including fishing impacts, offshore development, marine pollution and the growing changes brought by climate change,” Humboldt State’s Brian Tissot said. “Protecting seafloor habitats from bottom trawling will help these habitats and associated communities remain intact and thus will be more resilient to other stressors and help maintain the ecological functions they provide.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) granted tepid support of Oceana’s proposal.

DFW staff specifically stated they needed more information before fully supporting proposed closures in the Southern California Bight.

“DFW tentatively supports Oceana’s proposal south of Point Conception, but notes that additional stakeholder review and input and analysis of other data sources would be beneficial prior to taking final action,” the agency wrote in a position letter to PFMC members.

PFMC manages federal fisheries off the coasts California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

(Photo courtesy NOAA)

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