The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration on Aug. 20 to protect 43 Alaskan cold-water coral species under the Endangered Species Act.
The petition accuses some fishing activities, like trawling, of presenting a threat to the existence of the cold-water corals.
Kodiak fisheries adviser Denby Lloyd said the issue won’t need immediate attention by the city and borough, but is one that people should keep an eye on since it could affect fisheries down the line.
“People should anticipate there will be scrutiny applied to fisheries activities that have bottom contact that could potentially harm coral,” Lloyd said. “That would be trawling and potentially long-lining fisheries.”
Fisheries isn’t the only cause for the decline, but that’s where the argument will get tricky. The other causes include ocean acidification, ocean warming and other climate change.
“Presumably that’s the bulk of the argument that will potentially lead agencies to declare something threatened or endangered,” Lloyd said. “Unfortunately what has happened in the past with other considerations is the NMFS doesn’t have much jurisdiction to control climate change, so those agencies look at what human activities they do have the authority to control. In this case it’s going to be fishing.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service will give a presentation on the petition and the process invoked from receiving it, during the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s October meeting.
“Because fisheries is implicated, the NMFS will be bringing consideration of the petition to the NPFMC,” Lloyd said. “I don’t expect they would take action other than expressing concern. It’s an information exchange between the agency and the council.”
The NMFS is in charge of investigating the petition to see if it presents substantial scientific information indicating the petition’s action may be warranted.
NMFS has 90 days from the date the petition was received to make an official finding.
“We’re just beginning our review,” said Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for the protected resources department. “That 90-day finding is whether the petition has enough information to make us think it may be warranted. We’re not able to give any indication on what the finding might be. We just don’t know yet.”
Kurland said the 90-day finding will be announced in November.
If the finding determines the petition’s action is warranted, then the NMFS will begin a status review that will last 12 months from the receipt of the petition. During the status review the NMFS will take a more detailed look at the issue.
NMFS has to do a status review for each of the 43 coral species.
At the end of the 12 months NMFS will make a determination as to whether the listings are warranted, and the cold-water coral species will either be listed as endangered or taken off the list.
“We’d have to look at any and all of the species for which we conduct the status review,” Kurland said.
If any of the coral species make it through the lengthy process onto the list of threatened species, Kurland said it is likely NMFS will work with the council to figure out how to manage fisheries to protect the species.
“If we list coral species it’s possible we’d need to go through consultation to make sure fisheries is managed in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the continued existence of corals,” Kurland said.