The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should stop scraping live sea bottoms in the Gulf of Mexico for fishery studies, urges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group contends that the NOAA trawls needlessly damage coral and other marine habitats seeking data that can obtained less obtrusively.
Every year, NOAA conducts two bottom trawl surveys in the Gulf of Mexico offshore of Brownville, Texas to west of central Florida to collect information about the relative abundance and life history of marine life. Each survey consists of roughly 300 trawls. Altogether these trawls have now covered more than 100 square kilometers of sea floor in the eastern Gulf alone.
Citing internal data, PEER points out that these trawls –
- Inherently create ecological havoc, with some damage lasting for years;
- Leave tons of floating nets, adding to the needless losses caused by “ghost fishing” that persists for decades; and
- Drag up tons of coral and sponges that are not studied but simply discarded.
“Ironically, NOAA’s own marine protection policies are designed to minimize the very type of damage these research trawls cause,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, who has asked NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad to evaluate the need for continued trawls. “We believe that that the damage caused outweighs the marginal research value of these trawls.”
PEER argues that NOAA can obtain the same research data through methods that do not harm the live sea bottom habitats, such as surveys that record footage at reef locations, surveys of ichthyoplankton, longline surveys, and midwater, as opposed to sea bottom, trawl surveys.
Further, the current mitigation strategy of trying to identify sensitive areas is infeasible, as much of this seabed is unmapped. Moreover, simply avoiding sensitive areas undercuts the value of the research which is supposed to be based on randomly selected transects.
“The Deepwater Horizon disaster have already stressed the Gulf’s marine flora and fauna as never before,” added Whitehouse. “If NOAA has alternate, non-destructive means of obtaining the information, then it is time to retire the sea bottom trawling nets.”