California representatives introduce bill to protect federal waters off state’s coast

Proposed law aims to protect habitats at banks, ridges and seamounts.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an attempt to safeguard habitats and wildlife from the affects of climate change, overfishing and other hazards two members of Congress from California introduced a bill on July 14 to protect banks, ridges and seamounts in federal waters off the state’s coast.

Reps. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) and Ted Lieu (D-Santa Monica) introduced H.R. 5797 – the California Seamounts and Ridges National Marine Conservation Area Designation and Management Act – to increase the amount of protection habitats and wildlife would receive in federal waters.

Farr stated less than 1 percent of all federal waters have any sort of regulated protection. The bill, if passed, could increase the amount of federal waters protected by safeguarding the banks, ridges and seamounts in federal waters just off the California coastline.

Many sportfishing expeditions between San Diego and Santa Barbara navigate into these waters.

H.R. 5797 would not prohibit recreational or commercially licensed charter boat fishing. Commercial albacore fishing would also be allowed if the bill becomes law.

The proposed law aims to prevent human impacts from harming the banks, ridges and seamounts, which, according to Farr’s office, “are home to an exceptional array of … diverse and rare wildlife and habitat.”

Undersea islands and volcanoes are also common in the areas to be protected by H.R. 5797.

Protection is needed, according to the bill, to ward off the affects of climate change, energy development, mining, ocean acidification and overfishing, among other activities.

“Although these remote areas are offshore and relatively far from coastal populations, these seamounts, ridges and banks are at risk from human impacts,” Farr’s staff said in a released statement.

Language in the bill elaborated on the potential of harmful environmental impacts to the banks, ridges and seamounts.

“These areas’ remote location and depth contribute to their remarkably pristine condition, limited human footprint, and reputation as a vital frontier for scientific discovery, with research expeditions continuing to yield new and rare species, greater understanding about ecological relationships, and renewed appreciation of the uniqueness of deep-sea ecosystems,” reads the bill. “Despite currently limited direct pressure from extractive use, the conservation area is undergoing rapid change due to warming waters, ocean acidification, and ecological stress from pollution and other sources the management of which transcends the jurisdiction of any single government agency or department.”

Marine reserves have also been valuable in spurring economic growth, according to Farr’s staff.

“Many marine reserves have spurred economic growth through ecotourism and enhancement of local fisheries,” Farr’s staff stated, adding the bill was a collaboration of public consultation with fisherman, tribes and other stakeholders.

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