Marine Conservation Biology Institute Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Protecting Marine Ecosystems

Protecting US Deep-Sea Corals through Legislation


Deep-sea coral species build spectacular structures on the seafloor. These biogenic communities provide shelter, feeding habitats and breeding and nursery grounds to fish and invertebrate species. A number of human activities pose a threat to deep-sea corals, and commercial fishing — especially bottom trawling — is the most severe threat.


untrawled trawled  
Left: Groupers were abundant on deep-sea Oculina coral reefs off Florida's Atlantic Coast before trawling began. Right: Legal and illegal trawling has nearly eliminated the corals and large fishes in this ecosystem. (Untrawled photo by Dr. R. Grant Gilmore, Dynamac Corporation; trawled photo by Lance Horn, NURC/UNC-Wilmington)  

MCBI, Oceana, and other marine conservation organizations advocated for a new national policy to identify and conserve deep sea corals in both the 108th and 109th Congresses. Ultimately, deep sea coral language was included in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). This legislation was passed by Congress on December 9, 2006, and signed into law on January 12, 2007 by President Bush (PL 109-479).


National Policy

Deep sea coral language in the Magnuson-Stevens Act includes the following: (1) an affirmation of the Regional Fishery Management Council’s authority to protect deep sea coral ecosystems as part of their fishery management plans, without having to prove that corals constitute essential fish habitat. Council action under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is discretionary; (2) the establishment of a deep sea coral research program within NOAA. NOAA is directed to:

  • 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 Regional Fishery Management Councils and report findings to Congress.


Current Deep Sea Corals Advocacy
MCBI currently advocates for effective implementation of the deep sea coral provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Appropriate funding in NOAA’s annual budget must be provided for the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program. MCBI also advocates for the regional fishery management councils to develop a proactive approach towards the conservation of deep sea coral habitat, and to restrict the use of destructive types of fishing gear within areas of deep sea corals.


Fact sheets on deep sea coral legislation [PDF]

Deep sea coral language in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act


More on Bottom Trawling [PDF]

What is a bottom trawl?
How do bottom trawls impact deep-sea corals?
Effectiveness of gear-size restrictions
National Research Council report "Effects of Trawling and Dredging on Seafloor Habitat"


More on Deep-Sea Corals [PDF]

Status of Deep Sea Corals in US Waters
What are Deep-Sea Corals?
Threats to U.S. corals by region
International, federal and state-level efforts to protect deep-sea corals
U.S. Case Study: Oculina Banks
Scientists' Statement on Protecting the World's Deep-sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems




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