Historic bottom-fishing restrictions adopted for West Coast waters

The Pacific Fishery Management Council this week approved a permanent ban on trawl fishing for nearly 300,000 square miles of federal waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The plan — which will now be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service for final approval; it’s expected to go into effect in early 2006 — prohibits bottom trawling on seafloor area deeper than about 4,200 feet, and also includes dozens of shallower areas considered vital to the survival of groundfish like rockfish, lingcod, and Dover sole. Trawl fishers say that dragging nets willy-nilly across the seafloor has not contributed to the overall decline of West Coast groundfish stocks, but trawling critics think the ban will help protect sensitive habitats like coral beds and kelp forests, vital to fish and other species. However, since much of the area covered by the new plan is already too deep for trawling, it’s hard to say whether the ban will contribute to fisheries recovery.