Please Help Protect Alaska's Ocean Ecosystems

Alaskan waters are among the world's most diverse, productive and complex marine ecosystems. The seafloor of the North Pacific Ocean is adorned with magnificent, yet fragile, communities of deepwater coral and sponge, which recent scientific studies show provides essential habitat to fish, crabs and other marine life. Ongoing loss of this habitat, however, places the health of these remarkable deepwater ocean ecosystems at risk.

Like clear-cutting of old growth forests, bottom trawling fishing vessels cause extensive damage to deepwater coral habitat, potentially causing long-term changes to the entire marine ecosystem. For eight years, the federal National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has failed to protect Alaska's waters from the harmful effects of fishing, as required by law. In response to a court order, NMFS has finally drafted an Essential Fish Habitat Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the North Pacific, which includes the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands. This EIS contains several alternatives to protect habitat from ongoing destruction, but amazingly recommends taking no action to do so!

NMFS must take action to implement measures contained in the Essential Fish Habitat alternatives to:
  • Establish a network of marine reserves to fully protect 20 to 30 percent of all marine habitats (Alternative 6), or
  • At a minimum, significantly increase protection for sensitive habitats by requiring less damaging fishing gear and reductions in allowable catch (Alternative 5-B), and
  • Augment Alternative 5-B by adding fully protected "Habitat Areas of Particular Concern", such as seamounts, pinnacles, coral gardens, and submarine canyons.
Sign this petition to submit your public comments to support protecting Alaska's marine habitats from harmful fishing practices! The public comment period ends April 15, 2004 - please sign today!
Dear Dr. Balsiger,

Recent scientific studies have indicated that Alaskan waters contain a diversity of sensitive habitats and that destructive fishing practices, primarily bottom trawling, cause serious impacts to these habitats. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must adopt new management measures contained in the Essential Fish Habitat Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the North Pacific that protect essential fish habitat from the impacts of industrial fisheries.

NMFS should adopt a system of marine reserves that fully protects 20 to 30 percent of all marine habitats. Fully protected marine reserves offer an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management that takes into account the large amount of uncertainty associated with marine ecosystems. Alternative 6 of the EIS, which protects 20 percent of the fishable waters in Alaska, is a good start. I am disappointed, however, that NMFS ignores the wealth of scientific literature on the ecosystem benefits of marine reserves, and has not properly quantified these benefits when evaluating this alternative. This must be rectified in the final EIS.

If the agency does not choose a marine reserves alternative, they must, at a minimum, adopt Alternative 5-B and fully protect “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.” Alternative 5-B would significantly increase protection for cold-water corals in the Aleutians, protect rockfish habitat along the Gulf of Alaska slope, and protect crab habitat in the Bering Sea from the impacts of bottom trawling. This alternative is responsive to documented impacts on sensitive habitats and implements appropriate management tools - habitat protection areas, gear conversions, and reductions in total allowable catch - while maintaining vibrant fisheries. In addition, agency must also augment Alternative 5-B by fully protecting “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern,” such as seamounts, pinnacles, coral gardens, and submarine canyons.

These precautionary measures must be undertaken to ensure healthy, vibrant ecosystems in Alaska’s seas. Thank you for considering my comments.
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