September 10, 2007 23:01 ET

Canada, Spain, Portugal & Russia Urged to Protect Coldwater Corals: WWF-Canada

Coral hotspots and sites of high coral bycatch identified off Newfoundland & Labrador

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - Sept. 10, 2007) - WWF-Canada today released a groundbreaking new study that identifies three coldwater coral "hotspots" off Newfoundland and Labrador and assesses the impact of fishing on these fragile organisms. The study, produced by researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, will provide the scientific basis for Canadian and European governments to protect sensitive coral habitat in the Northwest Atlantic.

Coldwater corals are long-lived animals that live along continental slopes, seamounts, and mid-ocean ridges. These corals are important parts of deep-sea ecosystems and provide habitat for other invertebrates and fishes. Coldwater corals can be damaged by fishing or other seafloor directed activities and may take centuries to grow back, if at all.

"Canada, Spain, Portugal and Russia are the countries that have the greatest potential to damage these globally important concentrations of corals," said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice President, Atlantic, WWF-Canada. "Their fleets are among the largest operating off Newfoundland and fish in and around the areas identified as hotspots. This also means they have the greatest opportunity to protect them."

At the upcoming Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Annual Meeting, held this September in Portugal, these nations have an opportunity to become world leaders in coral protection by advocating for strict conservation measures.

Researchers compiled information from Canadian scientific surveys and the Canadian Fisheries Observer Program to illustrate the distribution of corals and assess coral bycatch (where fishing gear becomes accidentally entangled in corals) in the six most common deep-water-fisheries off Newfoundland and Labrador. Three "hotspots" were identified as potential areas for protection. These include: (1) the southwest slope of the Grand Banks, (2) Northeast Newfoundland Shelf edge, (3) the Hudson Strait.

"Our study mapped where corals are found, and identified areas where coral bycatch is highest for a variety of fisheries and gear types," said lead author Dr. Evan Edinger. "Our research demonstrates that no matter what type of fishing gear is used, bottom-contact fishing in coral habitat damages corals. Therefore, it is very important that any areas established to protect corals exclude all bottom directed fishing activities."

This research builds on a growing global movement to protect coldwater corals and seamounts. In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly called on fisheries management agencies like NAFO to implement vulnerable habitat protection measures by December 2008. In response, last year NAFO signalled their intent to protect seamount habitats.

"NAFO has an opportunity and a responsibility this September to move further and implement coral protection measures," concluded Rangeley. "They must seize this opportunity as their part of ongoing efforts to ensure sustainable fisheries and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems throughout the world."

WWF-Canada recommends:

- That Canada:

- immediately protect known coral concentrations in the two coral
"hotspots" entirely within its jurisdiction:
- the Northeast Newfoundland Shelf edge
- the Hudson Strait

- That Canada and NAFO jointly:
- immediately protect known coral concentrations in the shared
jurisdiction of the southwest slope of the Grand Banks "hotspot"
- "freeze the footprint" by closing all areas that are currently not
being fished until coral concentrations and other vulnerable areas
have been identified and protected; and
- develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to identify and protect
coral concentrations and other vulnerable areas off Newfoundland and

Note to Editors:

A map of coral conservation priority areas in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, high-resolution photos and video footage is available for use.

The Report, Coldwater Corals off Newfoundland and Labrador: Distribution and Fisheries Impacts may be downloaded at: http://wwf.ca/coral

This news release and associated material can be found on wwf.ca

Contact Information