Sunlight over the Bering Sea Credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
This Sunday, people around the world will mark World Oceans Day by celebrating the water that unites us. Here in Seattle, we have the opportunity to preserve a critical part of the ocean that supports one of our greatest industries: the North Pacific commercial fishing industry.
Up north, separating Alaska from Russia, the Bering Sea is home to the two largest underwater canyons in the world. These serve as the breeding grounds and essential fish habitat for countless species, including commercially important pollock, halibut and crab — and to the large concentrations of deep-sea corals and sponges, which are vital to the success of fish stocks in the Eastern Bering Sea. But studies from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that industrial fishing gear can demolish this ancient coral habitat. This is why thousands of Washingtonians are calling on the decision makers charged with reducing these destructive practices, to protect a portion of this critical ocean habitat as an insurance policy for our future.
North Pacific fisheries bring nearly $18 billion a year to Washington’s economy, and provide around 145,000 jobs. Yet the Bering Sea’s canyons and the highly productive Green Belt zone in which they are located are the only major habitat in the eastern Bering Sea with no protections in place.
Together with Alaska and Oregon we are one of three states with voting members on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC). The Council's mandate under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is, in part, to reduce destructive fishing practices that destroy the long-term natural productivity of fish stocks and their habitat. This is exactly what is needed in the Bering Sea canyons and along the unprotected Green Belt, the unique area in the Bering Sea where, according to NOAA, the majority of the coral and sponge habitat is located.
Many people have never heard of this powerful policy body, yet two of Washington’s three Council seats are nominated by the governor (primarily based on their commercial fishing industry experience), then approved by the Secretary of Commerce. Instead of creating the safeguards needed, the unaccountable NPFMC has actually reduced the scope of potential proposals designed to protect the canyons before the formal process to consider these has even begun.
Seattle businesses and thousands of locals have spoken on behalf of the Bering Sea canyons. “The decisions of your Council affect all of us who connect the public to the food web of the North Pacific,” wrote Pete Knutson, owner of Seattle-based Loki Fish Company, in letter to the council and the governor. “Unsustainable practices in any North Pacific fishery eventually affect all of us who live from the resource, either through ecological carelessness or through the impact upon public perceptions of commercial harvesters.”
With no electoral process in place to hold the NPMFC accountable, Washingtonians are turning to their elected representative: “Green Governor” Jay Inslee. Ecosystem-based management isn’t just an issue of managing accurate catch quotas. Fisheries worldwide must adopt policies that strengthen the ocean’s resiliency against the unpredictable consequences of rising temperatures and acidity. By protecting the corals and sponges in the Bering Sea canyons, we can help guard the North Pacific fisheries against the impacts of climate change.
If Governor Inslee is to be remembered as the “Greenest Governor in America”, he needs to include “no-take” areas along the Bering Sea Green Belt in his climate change action plan. This past winter, Greenpeace asked Governor Inslee to share his official position on the issue; we are still eagerly awaiting his response. In honor of World Ocean Day, we repeat this call to the governor. We ask for his leadership and support in order to guarantee truly sustainable seafood and a thriving fishing industry for our state.
Let's keep the fish flying at the Pike Place Market for generations to come.