Marine Conservation Biology Institute Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Marine Conservation Biology Institute

Current Legislation on Deep-Sea Corals

On September 8, 2005, the Bottom Trawl and Deep Sea Coral Habitat Act of 2005, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) as S. 1635. On September 14, 2005, an identical companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Clay Shaw (R-FL), Chris Shays (R-CT), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) as H.R. 3778. This legislation is modeled on the actions taken in US Pacific and North Pacific waters — freezing the footprint of bottom trawlers, protecting deep sea corals that have not yet been demolished while allowing bottom trawling to continue in areas where trawlers have historically fished. A modified version of the Coral Habitat Act has been included in the Senate version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill (S. 2012), which has already passed the Senate. However, the House Resources Committee did not include any language on corals in the House fisheries measure, which is still pending in committee. As a result, sponsors and supporters of the corals bill are considering a floor amendment that would add the corals language when the fisheries bill is debated on the floor late 2006 or in the next session. The 110th session of the US Congress will convene on January 3, 2007.


Bottom Trawling and Deep Sea Coral Habitat Act of 2005 (H.R. 3778). This Act would:

  • Allow mobile bottom-tending fishing gear to be used in almost all areas where it has been used in the past three years for which records are available.
  • Temporarily ban the use of mobile bottom-tending fishing gear in unstudied areas — any area in which records indicate that mobile bottom-tending fishing gears were not used — until research determines whether deep sea coral ecosystems are present. If no deep sea coral ecosystems are found in an area, that area would be opened for the use of bottom-tending fishing gears and designated a Bottom Trawl Zone.
  • Permanently ban the use of mobile bottom-tending fishing gear in Coral Habitat Conservation Zones where deep sea coral ecosystems are known to exist.
  • Require monitoring of coral bycatch. Raised bycatch levels are an indicator of the presence of deep sea coral ecosystems. Areas that produce high bycatch levels would be designated Coral Habitat Conservation Zones under the authority of the Secretary of Commerce.
  • Require deep-sea coral research on
    • Locations and mapping of deep sea coral ecosystems;
    • Natural history;
    • Taxonomic classification;
    • Ecological roles;
    • Growth rates;
    • Ecological indicators of coral habitat; and
    • Benefits provided by these species and habitats.
    • Provide for penalties and enforcement of the act.
    • Provide $15,000,000 a year to carry out the provisions of the act.


Senate Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill (S. 2012).

Coral language in this bill would:

  • Authorize the establishment of a deep sea coral research program in NOAA, which would
      • Identify existing research on, and known locations of, deep sea corals;
      • Locate and map locations of deep sea corals;
      • Monitor activity in locations where deep sea corals are known or likely to occur;
      • Conduct research, including cooperative research with fishing industry participants, on deep sea corals and related species, and on survey methods;
      • Develop technologies or methods designed to assist fishing industry participants in reducing interactions between fishing gear and deep sea corals;
      • Prioritize program activities in areas where deep sea corals are known to occur, and in areas where scientific modeling or other methods predict deep sea corals are likely to be present;
      • Submit information to Councils and report findings to Congress.
  • Authorize regional fishery management councils to protect deep sea coral ecosystems as part of their fishery management plans without having to identify corals as essential fish habitat.
  • Authorize regional fishery management councils to sustainably manage deep sea coral ecosystems as part of their fishery management plans without having to identify corals as essential fish habitat.


Past legislation

In 2002, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4003, and Sen. Toricelli (D-NJ) introduced the companion Senate bill, S. 2593, which would have restricted the size of the piece of trawl gear that allows trawls to fish in coral habitat. H.R. 4003 was co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of 27 coastal and inland congressional Representatives and endorsed by a variety of environmental, recreational, and commercial fishing organizations. In 2003, Rep. Hefley and eleven original inland and coastal co-sponsors introduced H.R. 1690, the Ocean Habitat Protection Act of 2003. The 2003 bill was modified from the previous year's bill to address some of the concerns raised during 2002 Resources Committee discussions. Also in 2003, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced S. 1953, and on July 22, 2004, Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-PA, who retired at the end of 2004) introduced H.R. 4897, a slightly modified companion bill to S. 1953. These bills, known as the Deep Sea Coral Protection Act, took a different approach to deep sea coral protection than those introduced in previous years, setting aside Coral Study Areas and Coral Management Areas in which bottom trawling is prohibited to protect potential or known deep sea coral ecosystems.





Learn More - MCBI also promotes deep-sea coral conservation through scientific research, here in the US and on the high seas.