NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has established a large marine protected area (MPA) in Alaska called the Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area covering 279,114 square nautical miles. This is more than twice the size of the MPA recently established in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The new MPA off the coast of Alaska is now the largest marine in the world. The NMFS recently announced similar habitat protection measures off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.
Is the NMFS starting to see the big picture? I’m not sure. They claim the new MPA in Alaska will establish a network of fishing closures in the Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska, protecting cold water corals and allowing them to recover from damage done by fishing gear. They go on to state that Six small areas in the Aleutian Islands, ten areas along the continental slope in the Gulf of Alaska, and five small areas in the Fairweather Grounds and Cape Ommaney will be closed to bottom trawling. And another fifteen areas offshore will also be closed to all bottom contact fishing gear to protect unique seamount habitats.
For a visual depiction see:
Aleutian Islands & Gulf of Alaska coral protection areas – https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/habitat-conservation/essential-fish-habitat-alaska
I’m confused. How can this be the largest MPA when so little area is protected?
If I’m not interpreting this correctly, please let me know. But from what I can discern, this just seems like more government lip-service to me. I understand the need for market-based fisheries management and the need to protect the livelihood of fishermen, but to me, protecting so few areas from deep trawlers under the guise of “the largest MPA in the world” doesn’t make sense.