We bring sad news today. At a recent meeting in Alaska, fishing regulators voted to kill the Bering Sea Initiative, which sought to bring protection from trawling to vast deep-water canyons that contained 50-85% of all the coral in the region. In partnership with Greenpeace, the Mission Blue community had petitioned the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) for years to consider the clear scientific evidence provided to them and make commonsense protections for the Bering Sea canyons. Their own scientists even concurred, specifically pointing out Pribilof canyon as a coral hot spot in the Bering Sea. Still, the Council rejected science, supported the fishing industry and trawling remains open for business in waters that contain cascading ridges of centuries-old corals, sea sponges and a host of other marine life – a silent, slow-motion underwater tragedy.
The Bering Sea, Mission Blue’s 19th Hope Spot, is one of the wildest regions in the world and the source of more than half of the seafood caught in the United States. Spanning more than 770,000 square miles between Western Alaska and Russia’s Siberian coast, this area is home to vast numbers of whales, seals, sea lions, sea birds, ancient deep-sea corals, sea sponges and people in Alaska’s indigenous coastal communities—all dependent on a healthy ecosystem. In the face of the bitter defeat of the Bering Sea Initiative, project lead Jackie Dragon of Greenpeace recently wrote:
We have long contended that this supposedly stellar transparent and public process is rigged, and the views of the industry that profit off our natural resources rule the day. This decision is further evidence that Alaska’s NPFMC has lost its way, and real leadership has shifted to other regions. The North Pacific Council says they are a leader on ecosystem-based fisheries management but, clearly, they are controlled by powerful pollock politics. Without obvious crisis, often accompanied by a lawsuit (prospects were poor for here) they do not conserve. They have set the bar higher than anyone else, putting the highest burden on conservation orgs and continuing to defer to the fishing industry at every turn.
Consider also that big corporate seafood buyers, such as Costco and McDonalds, publically urged the NPFMC to consider the hard science presented in relation to protecting the Bering Sea Canyons. See this letter below written from McDonalds to the NPFMC. Alas, the unified voice of legitimate concern that we raised, which came from a coalition of NGO’s, corporations and policy makers, wasn’t enough. The Bering Sea Hope Spot will continue to be subject to destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling, which scrapes the seafloor like a lawn mower and destroys everything in its path—including cold-water corals that are hundreds of years old. These fishing methods are also inefficient, killing so much other marine wildlife as bycatch. The 200,000 people and hundreds of businesses that called on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to protect these important habitats, have not been served by the regulators that claim to represent their interests. While big fishing may have won today, the eventual destruction of key marine environments guaranteed by their reckless fishing practices, ensures there will be no winners in the end. There is a shimmer of hope in this defeat. Large corporations went on record in defense of the environment. Groundbreaking research was conducted to support conservation claims. The Bering Sea Initiative even prompted the NPFMC to begin building a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. Still, this decisive defeat for ocean conservation in Alaska should remind us that the fight ahead is long and riddled with setbacks. Let us carry on and always maintain hope in a better future, in a global network of Marine Protected Areas – Hope Spots! – big enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.