Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment
This final rule designates coral protection areas on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine and prohibit the use of certain bottom-tending gears in these areas. This action:
- Establishes a deep-sea coral protection area called the Georges Bank Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area. This area is on the outer continental shelf in New England waters. It complements the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area established in January 2017 by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in Amendment 16 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan. The area runs along the outer continental shelf in waters no shallower than 600 m and extends to the outer limit of U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone boundary to the east and north, and south to the Franklin R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area.
- Restricts the use of bottom-tending commercial fishing gear within the Georges Bank Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area to protect deep-sea corals from interaction with and damage from such fishing gear. Red crab pot gear is exempt from the prohibition.
- Designates the Mount Desert Rock Coral Protection Area, a coral protection area in an 8-mi2 area southwest of Mount Desert Rock, a small, rocky island off the eastern Maine coast, about 20 nm south of Mount Desert Island, encompassing depths of 100-200 m. Vessels are prohibited from fishing with bottom-tending mobile gear in this area. Vessels are still able to fish for lobster in this area using trap gear.
- Designates the Outer Schoodic Ridge Coral Protection Area, a coral protection area in a 31-mi2 area on the Outer Schoodic Ridge, roughly 25 nm southeast of Mount Desert Island, encompassing depths of 104-248 m. Vessels are prohibited from fishing in this area with bottom-tending mobile gear. Vessels are still able to fish for lobster in this area using trap gear.
- Establishes provisions for vessels transiting through the coral protection areas.
- Designates the Jordan Basin Dedicated Habitat Research Area, an area in Jordan Basin in the Gulf of Maine as a dedicated habitat research area.
- Expands framework adjustment provisions in the New England Fishery Management Plans for future modifications to the deep-sea coral protection measures.