Coral Gardens in Alaskan Waters Spur Controversy Over Trawling

If you think coral is only to be found in warm, tropical waters, think again. Cold-water coral gardens contain a surprising array of biodiversity, and scientists discovered a particularly impressive coral bed in waters off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands last year, containing numerous coral varieties not seen before. That finding is now spurring controversy over commercial fishing practices in the region, particularly the use of nets weighted down with chains that scrape the sea bottom, scooping up loads of sea creatures and sometimes loads of coral too. Enviros are comparing such trawling to the clear-cutting of old-growth forests. “It’s a Neanderthal approach to fishing,” said Jim Ayers of the environmental group Oceana, who previously served as chief of staff to former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D). “I think we have the brains and technology to catch fish without destroying habitat.” State and federal officials are considering proposals to put some of Alaska’s waters off-limits to trawling.