Researchers had given some food for thought to Canadian and European governments about the impacts of cold water fishing in the North West Atlantic. Further details of this research which was funded by the WWF are detailed in a study released by them, Cold-water corals off New Foundland and Labrador: Distribution and fisheries Impacts.
The study has reviewed the impact of fishing on three fragile cold water coral hotspots off the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador and identified them as areas for protection. The three hotspots are the southwest slope of the Grand Banks, Northeast Newfoundland Shelf edge, and the Hudson Strait.
Based on scientific surveys the study details the location of corals and assesses coral by-catch in the six most common deep-water-fisheries off Newfoundland and Labrador. The latter refers to areas where coral reefs unintentionally snarled in fishing gear.
Lead author Dr Evan Edinger noted:
Our research demonstrates that no matter what type of fishing gear is used, bottom-contact fishing in coral habitat damages corals. It is very important that any areas established to protect corals exclude all bottom directed fishing activities.
Cold-water corals are marine animals found in the world’s oceans. They tend to be found along the undulating ocean floor along continental slopes, sea mountains and mid-ocean ridges. Corals form a crucial part of deep-sea ecosystems and are often considered to be an oasis for marine life. They are considered an important part of the habitat for other ocean invertebrates and fish species. Cold-water corals are frail and are easily damaged by fishing or other activities that occur along the seafloor. Corals grow slowly and can take centuries to grow back.
The WWF study is expected to be a basis for Canadian and European governments to protect sensitive coral habitat in the Northwest Atlantic. It forms part of the global movement to protect cold-water corals which includes the United Nations. It was in 2006 that the UN asked the world’s fisheries management agencies including the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) to implement vulnerable habitat protection and strict conservation measures by December 2008.
The Vice President of WWF Canada Dr Robert Rangeley observed:
Canada, Spain, Portugal and Russia are the countries that have the greatest potential to damage these globally important concentrations of corals. Their fleets are among the largest operating off Newfoundland and fish in and around the areas identified as hotspots. This also means they have the greatest opportunity to protect them.
The next NAFO meeting is scheduled for the last week in September in Lisbon, Portugal. The WWF has recommended that Canada should heed the study and take steps to protect coral concentrations in the areas under its jurisdiction: the Northeast Newfoundland Shelf edge and the Hudson Strait; protect corals in shared jurisdictions of the southwest slope of the Grand Banks hotspot; freeze the footprint by closing unexploited areas until coral concentrations and other vulnerable areas have been identified and protected; and to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy towards protecting coral concentrations and other vulnerable areas off Newfoundland and Labrador.