Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bering Sea Canyons Maybe Protected

credit: Greenpeace, MV Esperanza
US Person is always happy to report some good conservation news. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council initiated a process to evaluate protections for the Bering Sea's undersea canyons. The Council took the action Tuesday in response to an outpouring of concern from more than twenty organizations including food giant, Safeway. A recent study sponsored by the University of California-Santa Barbara, Greenpeace, and NOAA provided scientific evidence of the high density of deep sea corals in the canyons which provide habitat for fish and other marine life. Two of the world's largest submerged canyons, Zhemchug and Pribilof incise the continental shelf a mile deep causing currents and upwelling to interact producing abundant marine life. [photo: giant pacific octopus resting on anemones and sponges at 1132 feet] The study authors noted that the remote canyons already show signs of benthic disturbance from fishing trawlers as deep as 3,280 feet. Deep sea corals and sponges recovery very slowly from damage caused by fishing gear. The science team surveyed the canyon floors for three weeks using piloted mini-subs and diving robots. It identified 15 species of coral and collected 20 sponge species, a few not thought to exist in the Bering Sea. The Council appears ready to reassess its current fishery management to protect these grand canyons from further damage once the scientific review is completed. The Council, which can set fishing quotas and set aside protected areas, last considered the canyons in 2006, and is reported to be seeking the best scientific understanding of the function the two canyons play in the larger Bering Sea ecosystem, but it is unclear how long the review will take. Little is known about the canyons and the life they support, yet Shell Oil is preparing to begin drilling for oil in the Bering Sea this summer.