Deep sea coral habitat likely to get protection by closure of fisheries off NorCal coast

A man and child explore the rocky Monterey Bay shoreline on a summer day at
A man and child explore the rocky Monterey Bay shoreline on a summer day at Lovers Point State Marine Reserve on Aug. 2, 2016.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider Thursday choosing among several areas off Monterey Bay to protect in order to restore and preserve deep-sea corals that create habitat for sea creatures.

The council will decide at a Thursday meeting whether to protect deep-sea corals from bottom fishing gear at undersea areas known as Sur Ridge or the Año Nuevo or Ascension canyons or all three. The panel is one of eight federally created councils operating under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The restoration efforts were spurred by an incident in 2016, in which a 528-foot dry dock, a structure used to contain a ship for it to be drained, was being towed from Washington state to Mexico in order to be recycled, according to Karen Grimmer, Resource Protection Coordinator at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.


Because of trouble with the tow, the dock was released in Pioneer Canyon, about 40 miles offshore San Francisco Bay, crushing deep-sea coral in the area. The latest efforts would focus on restoring deep-sea coral at other sites in order to compensate for the loss in 2016.

The sites being considered, which are in essential fish habitat conservation areas, are already protected from bottom trawling, which involves dragging a fishing net along the bottom of the ocean. They’re however not protected from other traps, bottom contact gear or pots.

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Sur Ridge encompasses 36.64 square nautical miles, Año Nuevo Canyon is 6.5 square nautical miles and Ascension Canyon is 2.96 square nautical miles off of the California coast. The depths range from 1,574 to 5,118 feet.

Grimmer said the project could take up to 10 years because it takes a long time for deep-sea coral to grow. To help regrow coral, branches of healthy coral must be snipped off and replanted somewhere else.

“We really want to understand more about their biology and their ecology so that we understand better their role in a healthy ocean ecosystem, because they do provide and contribute to the ecosystem, including habitat for fish and invertebrates,” she said.

The agencies also want to work with fishermen to limit the impacts the project may have on fishing, according to Grimmer. Keeping that in mind, that’s why they selected very deep areas because there are very few fisheries happening at that depth.


“Our intention is to try and find areas that have the least impact on fishermen so that they can have their fishing grounds and opportunities and we can also restore and protect coral,” she said. “I think there’s a way to do both.”