New England fisheries council propose deep sea coral-protection rules

Posted:  Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 3:45pm

 The New England Fishery Management Council will be conducting seven public hearings from May 22 to 26 to solicit comments on the alternatives under consideration in the Draft Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment. The draft amendment includes several draft alternatives for potential new management areas to protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Maine and in the slope/canyon region south of Georges Bank.

The Council is seeking feedback from the public on which alternatives should be selected and why. The hearings are being held by the Council in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The public comment period will end on June 5, and the Council intends to take final action on the amendment during its June 20-22, 2017, meeting in Portland.

The Council is using its discretionary authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to identify and implement measures to reduce, to the extent practicable, effects of fishing gear on deep sea corals in New England. A proposed amendment attempts to identify and protect concentrations of corals in select areas and restrict the expansion of fishing effort into areas where corals are likely to be present.

“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,” the Council wrote, in a public hearing notice on May 18. “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 Council's preferred alternative for the inshore Gulf of Maine would prohibit mobile bottom-tending gear (trawls and dredges) within both the Schoodic Ridge and Mt. Desert Rock areas.

While an option to prohibit all bottom-tending gear, including lobster traps/pots, is still in the amendment, it is not the Council's preferred alternative.

“The Council recognized the economic impact associated with preventing the lobster fishery from working within the inshore areas and acknowledged that shifts in effort to other locations could be problematic,” it wrote. “Preferred alternatives are an indication of which way the Council is leaning, but the Council is not obligated to select them for final action, so it is critically important that Maine fishermen who fish in these areas attend the public hearing or submit comments to let the Council know their views!”

Public Hearings:

Wednesday, May 24
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Sheraton Harborside
250 Market Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801

Thursday, May 25
5:00-7:00 p.m.
Ellsworth High School
299 State Street
Ellsworth, ME 04605

Friday, May 26, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

What should Maine fishermen say during the public hearing?

State your name and where you are from.

Support the State's position: urge the Council to select the preferred alternative, which would prohibit the use of Mobile Bottom-Tending Gear (MBTG) in the proposed closures, but allows for continued use of lobster gear inside the closures.

If applicable, describe your fishing effort in proposed closures and what the impact to you would be if the Council's final action does not exempt lobster gear.

Written comments can be submitted via mail, email, or fax:

Thomas A. Nies, Executive Director
New England Fishery Management Council
50 Water Street, Mill 2
Newburyport, MA 01950

Email: Fax: (978) 465–3116

Please note on your correspondence "Comments on Deep-Sea Coral Amendment"

Written comments must be submitted before 5:00 pm EST on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Timeline for Deep Sea Coral Amendment:

May 1-June 5 Public comment period
May 22-May 26 Public hearings
May 30 Committee reviews written and hearing comments,
recommends any updates to preferred alternatives
June 20-22 Council takes final action on coral amendment
Late summer/fall/early winter: Amendment submission and rulemaking
2018 Implementation (6-7 months from Council submission)

Information about the coral amendment is posted on the Council's website at:

To view interactive maps of the coral zone alternatives, visit the Northeast Ocean Data Portal,