Fisheries Regulators Take On Preservation of Bering Sea Canyons

By Alexandra Gutierrez, Unalaska Community Broadcasting, kucb 89.7 fm channel 8 – Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has decided to reexamine the management of the Bering Sea’s deepest canyons.

Regulators on the council voted to assess the impact commercial fishing has on Pribilof and Zhemchug canyons and to come up with potential preservation strategies if necessary.

The decision follows the release of a study by Greenpeace, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of California that looks at the role the canyons play in the ocean ecosystem.

Michelle Ridgway serves on the federal advisory committee for marine protected areas, and she testified in favor of the motion. She argued that the corals and sponges found in the canyon play an important role in the health of Alaska’s commercial fisheries.

“These canyons and that shelf edge are an essential reservoir for biodiversity of Pacific Ocean species,” said Ridgway.

Representatives from various conservation, tribal, and even industry groups echoed her sentiments.

However, in the midst of the outpouring of support, there was one criticism of the study’s conclusion that trawl fishing put the canyons in danger. Lori Swanson spoke on behalf of Groundfish Forum, a trade association that represents six trawl groups. She supported the motion and helped advance it as a member of the North Pacific Council’s advisory panel, but she suggested that the canyons were not yet in an “alarming situation.”

“0.26 percent of the video record they had showed evidence of fishing gear impact, either debris or scarring, on the bottom,” said Swanson. “I think the actual proven impact from this cruise is very small in terms of what’s happening now.”

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council had previously reviewed research done on the Bering Sea’s submarine canyons, but at the time they determined that there was not enough information available to pursue a course of action.