Ted Danson, Oceana speak out against seafloor clear-cutting

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Ted Danson addresses a press conference from inside a bottom trawl net on the Santa Monica to stop destructive bottom trawling on California's seafloor. Photos courtesy of Oceana

Bottom trawling destroys more ocean habitat than any other fishing practice on the West Coast.

By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

Thousands of Californians, including actor and ocean activist Ted Danson, are speaking out on behalf of California’s living seafloor, inviting public comment through May 11 on alternatives that several groups, including Oceana, have developed to mitigate the effects of bottom trawling. In June of this year, federal lawmakers must decide whether they will take action to protect essential fish habitats as mandated by federal law against the threat of destructive bottom trawling off the coast of California.

Director of the Pacific for Oceana, Jim Ayers, at a press conference April 20 at Santa Monica Pier, urged people to respond.

“We encourage citizens to act in the form of public comment regarding this upcoming decision about what to do, if anything, to protect seafloor habitats,” Ayers said. “Californians are taking action and telling the world that they care about what is happening to their oceans. Thanks to Gov. Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dede Alpert, protection for the seafloor in state waters out to three miles was adopted last year. Now the fight is on for the living seafloor in federal waters out to the 200-mile U.S. boundary.”

Actor and sometime Malibu resident Ted Danson, a board member of Oceana and an avid supporter of protecting ocean waters, also spoke at last Wednesday’s conference.

“We have no right to trade our children’s future opportunities in the ocean for short-term profits today,” he said. “We can have vibrant fisheries and healthy oceans. But we have to manage smarter and learn to catch fish without destroying the seafloor habitat we depend on for healthy oceans.”

The Pacific Ocean’s continental shelf, slope and canyons off the coast of California are home to deep-sea corals. Like the California redwoods, deep-sea corals can live to be hundreds or thousands of years old. In fact, oceanologists believe some of California’s corals may be older than the redwoods on land. Carbon dating on the oldest known deep-sea corals indicates they are 15,000 years old.

“Deep sea corals grow at a rate of about one centimeter a year,” Ayers explained. “Some of the oldest corals are three meters tall. The smallest bottom trawling nets can clear cut the ocean bed 60 feet by 100 feet. Entire coral forests are destroyed in one fatal swoop.”

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has designated corals and sponges as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs). HAPC designation is reserved for areas of highest conservation priority due to their ecological importance, vulnerability to fishing impacts and rarity. The National Academy of Sciences reports that bottom trawling damage is most severe in areas of corals and sponges, destroying as much as 90 percent of a coral colony and damaging up to two-thirds of sponges.

According to the Oceana Web site, bottom trawling destroys more ocean habitat than any other fishing practice on the West Coast. In bottom trawling, large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor. The bottoms of the nets have a thick metal cable studded with heavy steel balls or rubber bobbins that efficiently crush everything in their path. As the nets drag along the seafloor, everything from fish, sea mammals and turtles to corals and kelp forests are ripped up. Fishing vessels then separate out the targeted commercial species they are trawling for. The unwanted “bycatch”-most of it dead or dying, including the deep sea coral-is discarded by shoveling it back into the ocean. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that more than a million pounds per year of corals and sponges are caught and discarded by bottom trawlers. In recent deep-sea coral studies, a review of damaged areas seven years later revealed no new growth.

Many fishermen also understand the need for conservation in order to protect their livelihood and sport. Commercial fishing species supported by coral habitats include rockfish, ocean perch, flatfish, Atka mackerel, golden king crab, shrimp, pacific cod, pollock, greenling, Greenland turbot and sablefish. President of United Anglers of Southern California Tom Raftican concurred, “Sportsmen and conservationists have recognized for decades that our oceans are finite resources. With decisions on the table today, now is the time for the general public to let their voices be heard. I want to be able to catch halibut with my grandchildren. We need a healthy seafloor for that to be possible.”

More information about deep-sea coral and how to register public comment can be obtained at the following Web sites: www.savecorals.com or www.oceana.org