WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service plans to ban possession of coral and use of fishing gear known to damage coral formations in what is thought to be the largest distribution of pristine deepwater coral ecosystems in the world, according to a proposed rule.
The rule would establish five Deepwater Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) off the southern Atlantic seaboard: Cape Lookout Lophelia Banks Deepwater Coral HAPC, Cape Fear Lophelia Banks Deepwater Coral HAPC, Stetson-Miami Terrace Deepwater Coral HAPC, Pourtales Terrace Deepwater Coral HAPC, and the Blake Ridge Diapir Deepwater Coral HAPC.
Possession of coral species, the use of anchor, anchor and chain, or grapple and chain, and the use of bottom longline, trawl (mid-water and bottom), dredge, pot, or trap gear would be prohibited in the Deepwater Coral HAPCs. Deepwater corals are slow growing and are easily damaged by bottom-tending gear.
More than 99 species of fish and invertebrates are associated with deepwater coral habitats, including commercial species such as wreckfish, deepwater groupers, and golden crab. Fishery access areas will be designated for each commercial species in each proposed HAPC and only licensed commercial boats would be allowed to operate in the designated area.