Deep Sea Coral Amendment 9
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6/7/16Dylan Hubbarddhubbard@hubbardsmarina.comFLCharter/headboatTo start, a little background on us and our company. At Hubbard’s Marina, we operate two federally permitted head boats with 50+ passengers and four charter boats all with federal permits, two of those are multi passenger USCG inspected charter vessels. Hubbard’s Marina carries around 60,000 anglers on average per year for near shore and offshore deep sea vertical line fishing. Typically fishing depths of 10-1,000 foot off the central west coast of Florida as a family owned and operated business since 1928.

The following are our recommendations to the council regarding what has been discussed this far at the meeting.(Tab N – 4) Options Paper – Coral Amendment 9
Chapter 2.1 – Action 1 – We suggest Alternative 1 no action, as to not conflict with the current rules set forth by Florida allowing these octocorals to remain under Florida’s state management.
Chapter 2.3 – Action 3 – We suggest alternative 1 no action, not increasing the Pulley ridge south HAPC with regulations.
Chapter 2.4 – Action 4 – We suggest alternative 1 no action, do not establish any HAPCs on West Florida Shelf
Chapter 2.5 – Action 5 – we suggest alternative 1 no action, do not establish any HAPCs in the Northeastern region
Chapter 2.6 – Action 6 – We suggest alternative 1 no action, do not establish any new HAPCs in the Northwestern Gulf Region
Chapter 2.7 – Action 7 – We suggest alternative 1 no action, do not establish any new HAPCs in Southwest region
Chapter 2.8 – Action 8 – We suggest alternative 1 no action, do not establish any deep-water coral HPACs
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6/21/16Alison Johnsonajohnson@oceana.orgOceanaRE: Oceana’s Written Comment on the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology
Program

Dear Chairman Anson:

Deep-sea coral communities have been discovered throughout the United States on continental shelves and slopes, canyons and sea mounts in depths ranging from 150 to 10,000 feet. These coral communities are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by bottom-tending fishing gear – especially trawls, as well as energy exploration, deployment of cables and pipelines and other human activities that disturb the ocean floor. Once damaged, they take decades or even centuries to recover since most deep-sea corals grow extremely slowly. Deep-sea corals play a crucial role in the ecosystem by providing habitat for numerous fish and invertebrate species, including commercially important grouper, snapper and shrimp.

For more than a decade, Oceana has worked to identify and conserve deep-sea corals in many places throughout the United States. In 2009, following a change in the Magnuson –Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, NOAA, in consultation with the Regional Fishery Management Councils, developed the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program1 and a national strategy to conserve deep-sea corals. This national strategy gave the Councils additional authority to conserve deep-sea corals by managing fishing impacts and addressing other threats to these deep water ecosystems. This program will ‘freeze the footprint’ of current fishing and protect other areas with known deep-sea corals.

Oceana encourages the Council to work with the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program to learn more about this strategy and how it can be implemented in the Gulf region. This precautionary approach has been used by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council with good results and we are hopeful that the GOM Council will soon follow suit. If implemented correctly, the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program can conserve deep-sea coral communities with minimal impact on current fishing.

Oceana is committed to work with the Council to protect deep-sea coral communities. They are not only valuable to our wondrous ocean landscape but provide vital habitat to the fish and other ocean life that comprise the very essence of our fisheries.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide input and thank you for your time. We will continue to be engaged in this process moving forward.
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10/13/16Alison Johnsonajohnson@oceana.orgOceanaLeann Bosarge, Chair
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
2203 N. Lois Avenue, Suite 1100
Tampa, FL 33607

Re: Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 Scoping Guide – A Guide to Proposed Coral Protections in the Gulf of Mexico and Scoping Document – Recommended Coral Areas Identified as Priority Habitats for Management Consideration in the Gulf

Dear Chairman Bosarge:
Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation organization solely focused on protecting the world’s oceans, appreciates the opportunity to submit comments on the Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 Scoping Guide – A Guide to Proposed Coral Protections in the Gulf of Mexico (“GoM”) (“Scoping Guide”)1 and the Scoping Document – Recommended Coral Areas Identified as Priority Habitats for Management Considerations in the Gulf (“Scoping Document”).2 Oceana is enthusiastic about the development of Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 (“Amendment 7”) to identify and conserve corals, especially deep sea corals, in the GoM.

Although deep sea coral inhabit cold, dark, deep water, they are equally as important and complex as their shallow-water counterparts. Deep sea corals offer protection from currents and predators; act as nurseries for juvenile fish, and provide feeding, breeding and spawning areas for numerous fish and shellfish species. Some deep-sea corals may also be sources of compounds for the development of new drugs and medical treatments. As with shallow water coral, deep sea coral is also vulnerable to environmental disturbances such as global warming, ocean acidification and pollution or physical impacts including mineral extraction, cable trenching and fishing activities.

Scoping is a critically important part of the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). To comply with NEPA requirements for scoping as well as requirements for conservation and management of deep sea corals under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act (“Magnuson-Stevens Act” or “the Act”), the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (“Gulf Council”) must significantly amend and improve
the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document prior to any public comment period on Amendment 7. Oceana urges the Gulf Council to amend the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document to incorporate the following recommendations:

• Fully discuss the differences between shallow water corals and deep sea corals and the areas in the GoM that fall into each category;

• Separate the management of deep sea corals from shallow water corals and discuss the different authorities in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to conserve these areas;

• Include a call for proposals of other areas in the scoping process; and

• Develop a pathway for new areas to be considered and included in Amendment 7 if and when new science becomes available as well as a mechanism to remove areas if deep sea corals are confirmed not to be present.

Although the Gulf Council’s creation of the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document is a positive step in the right direction, both documents are gravely lacking in detail, contrary to the intent of scoping that NEPA envisions and fail to fully acknowledge or use all of the management tools available under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to protect deep sea corals.

BACKGROUND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The National Marine Fisheries Service (“Fisheries Service”) and the Gulf Council began managing coral in the GoM jointly with the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council in
1982. Since then, over 100 species of coral have been added to the Coral Fisheries Management Plan (“FMP”) which is now managed separately by each council. In 2013, a group of coral and fisheries scientists were brought together by the Gulf Council to discuss how coral may be affected by fishing activities. One of the recommendations from this workshop was to reevaluate coral areas in the GoM that might warrant special protection.3 Methods to protect coral and coral habitat from activities other than direct harvest include Section 303(b)(2)(B) of the Magnuson Stevens Act or designating particular sites within existing coral Essential Fish Habitat (“EFH”)
as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (“HAPC”).

In 2014, the Gulf Council convened a group of scientists who identified 47 areas, including HAPCs that are in need of protection. After reviewing the list, the Gulf Council consulted with user groups who would be affected by potential fishing regulation changes by convening their Shrimp, Reef Fish, Coral and Spiny Lobster Advisory Panels. In August 2016, the Gulf
Council’s Scientific Advisors on Coral (“Coral SSC”), the Coral and Shrimp Advisory Panel and
a group of longline fishermen further narrowed down the initial 47 areas to 15 priority areas plus
7 additional deep water areas that do not require fishing regulations.4

LEGAL BACKGROUND

National Environmental Policy Act

Scoping is “[a]n early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action.”5 The purpose of the scoping process is to determine the scope or range of impacts of the proposed action on the human environment. The scoping process determines some of the issues associated with the action and may be used to develop action alternatives as well.6 NEPA requires federal agencies to consider alternatives to their proposed actions as well as the environmental impacts of the proposed action and its alternatives.7 The Council on Environmental Quality considers the analysis of alternatives to be the “heart” of the environmental impact statement (“EIS”).8 An EIS must “rigorously explore[]” “all reasonable alternatives” and the decision maker must consider all such alternatives.9 Where there are potentially a large number of alternatives, the EIS must analyze
and compare “a reasonable number of examples, covering the full spectrum of alternatives.”10

Magnuson-Stevens Act

The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines “essential fish habitat” (“EFH”) as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity.”11 Section 303 of the Act sets forth requirements for FMPs, including the requirement to “define and identify essential fish habitat for the fishery based on guidelines established by the [Fisheries Service] under section 305(b)(1)(A), minimize to the extent practicable adverse effects on such habitat caused by fishing, and identify other actions to encourage the conservation and enhancement of such habitat.”12 EFH must be identified and described in FMPs according to the guidelines set forth under 50 C.F.R. 600.815. The guidelines include the requirement that “Amendments to the FMP or its implementing regulations must ensure that the FMP continues to minimize to the extent practicable adverse effects on EFH caused by fishing.”13 Under these mandatory
requirements, the Fisheries Service and fishery management councils have a duty to protect deep sea corals that function as EFH. In addition to conservation of deep sea corals in the context of EFH, Congress amended the Act in 2007 to give the Fisheries Service and fishery management council’s explicit authority to conserve and protect deep sea corals. Section 303(b)(2) of the Act provides that any fishery management plan prepared by a council or the Fisheries Service may:

(B) designate such zones in areas where deep sea corals are identified under section 408, to protect deep sea corals from physical damage from fishing gear or to prevent loss or damage to such fishing gear from interactions with deep sea corals, after considering long-term sustainable uses of fishery resources in such areas; and

(C) with respect to any closure of an area under this Act that prohibits all fishing, ensure that such closure—
(i) is based on the best scientific information available;
(ii) includes criteria to assess the conservation benefit of the closed area;
(iii) establishes a timetable for review of the closed area’s performance that is consistent with the purposes of the closed area; and
(iv) is based on an assessment of the benefits and impacts of the closure, including its size, in relation to other management measures (either alone or in combination with such measures), including the benefits and impacts of limiting access to: users of the area, overall fishing activity, fishery science, and fishery and marine conservation.14

In 2007, Congress also added the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program at Section
408 of the Act to establish a program to identify existing research, map coral locations and monitor activity in known deep sea coral areas.15 In addition to biennial reporting to Congress,16 under the Program, the Fisheries Service collaborates on research about deep sea corals with other federal agencies, international partners, and non-governmental and academic scientists.17

DISCUSSION

The Scoping Guide and Scoping Document are lacking information on both the background for the proposed action under Amendment 7 as well as the process to consider alternatives. The Gulf Council should amend the Scoping Guide and the Scoping Document before approving use of these documents in future scoping processes for Amendment 7. In addition, both documents should fully employ all authority available to protect deep sea corals under the Magnuson- Stevens Act. Specifically, the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document should incorporate the following recommendations.

I. Fully discuss the differences between shallow water corals and deep sea corals and the areas in the GoM that fall into each category

Unlike shallow water corals, deep sea corals do not contain symbiotic zooxanthellae, which require light to photosynthesize and, as a result, can live in deep, dark, cold water. Since deep sea coral inhabit deeper water, they are typically located in the EEZ and fall under the authority of
the Fisheries Service and the fishery management councils rather than under State control. There is no mention of these relevant differences in either the Scoping Guide or the Scoping Document.

II. Separate the management of deep sea corals from shallow water corals and discuss the different authorities in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to conserve these areas

The Scoping Guide and Scoping Document discuss using HAPC as the primary mechanism to manage deep sea coral in the GoM. HAPCs are a subset of EFH designated as ecologically important, sensitive to human harm, located in an environmental stressed area, and/or considered rare.18 Although deep sea coral could fall into one or more of these designations, they must also be included within the EFH of a species managed in a council FMP.19 HAPC may be appropriate for species included in the Gulf Council’s Coral Fishery Management Plan,20 but if deep sea
coral does not provide habitat for a managed species, then it does not have a nexus to a managed species and cannot be conserved through an HAPC. Alternatively, if deep sea coral functions as EFH for a species managed by a council FMP, it could be conserved using this pathway, but whether particular deep sea coral areas are designated as EFH depends on the associated fish and coral assemblages.

In addition to mandatory requirements to protect deep sea corals that function as EFH,21 the Magnuson-Stevens Act was amended in 2007 to give the Gulf Council explicit authority to conserve deep sea corals. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently employed Section 303(b) of the Act to conserve corals within their jurisdiction.22 The background of the Scoping Guide and the Scoping Document should fully explore the use of Section 303(b) authority. Additionally, the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document should discuss agency guidance on deep sea coral conservation.23

The background sections in each of the two scoping documents should include a full discussion of the 2010 NOAA Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems24 as well as the
2014 guidance memo from NOAA Office of Habitat Conservation to the Executive Directors of
the Regional Fishery Management Councils.25 These important documents should be part of the background for this action and will inform and improve the scoping and development of Amendment 7.

III. Include a call for proposals of other areas in the scoping process

It is contrary to the intent of scoping under NEPA for the Gulf Council to limit the number and size of areas under consideration prior to going out for scoping. Limiting the number and size of areas assumes that the Gulf Council is fully aware of the types, locations and range of deep sea coral areas in the GoM; however, this is not the case as many scientists are currently documenting new areas in the GoM. As many coral inhabit deep, unmapped areas, the Gulf Council should use the scoping process to solicit additional proposals for deep sea coral areas from scientists, NGOs or other offices within the Fisheries Service.

The Gulf Council should also consider using predictive modeling to develop coral conservation areas in locations that have not yet been surveyed for corals but have the physical and oceanographic characteristics to support them. This has been developed and used to inform management in other regions and should be included in the scoping process for this action.26

Finally, the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document should reference the information collected and reported under Section 408(a)(b) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, also known as the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program. The 2010 NOAA Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems is also relevant and should be referenced to ensure complete analysis of all potential deep sea coral areas in the GoM.27 This information about other potential areas of deep sea corals is readily available from the Fisheries Service and should be included among the areas considered in the Gulf Council’s scoping process for Amendment 7.

IV. Develop a pathway for new areas to be considered and included in the coral amendment if and when new science becomes available as well as a mechanism to remove areas if deep sea corals are confirmed not to be present

Many areas in the GoM have yet to be mapped; it is therefore important that scoping for Amendment 7 be dynamic and allow for updates to include newly discovered areas. In addition, a mechanism to remove areas previously thought to have deep sea coral, yet later confirmed not to be present, should be created.
CONCLUSION

Oceana considers the Gulf Council’s creation of the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document for Amendment 7 is a step in the right direction for protecting and managing deep sea coral in the GoM region. As neither scoping document adequately addresses the issues or the intent of the scoping process under NEPA or fully employs all authority available to protect deep sea corals under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Oceana urges the Gulf Council to amend the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document to incorporate the following recommendations:

• Fully discuss the differences between shallow water corals and deep sea corals and the areas in the GoM that fall into each category;

• Separate the management of deep sea corals from shallow water corals and discuss the different authorities in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to conserve these areas;

• Include a call for proposals of other areas in the scoping process; and

• Develop a pathway for new areas to be considered and included in Amendment 7 if and when new science becomes available as well as a mechanism to remove areas if deep sea corals are confirmed not to be present.

Oceana looks forward to working with and providing additional input to the Gulf Council as the scoping process for Amendment 7 moves forward. We appreciate the chance to provide written comments on this very important issue.
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11/28/2016 13:12:58Jeffery DunbarJDUNBAR@SWISHER.COMFernandina Beach, fl 32034Private Recreational AnglerAs an avid king mackerel angler who travels all over the SE to fish, from my point of view, allowing the 'unused' recreational catch to roll over to the commercial fishery is just a bad idea. This proposed amendment does nothing to help the fishery and only places more control of it into commercial hands. This amendment, if passed likely will result sometime in the future in a closed recreational fishery. This has obvious affects upon the local marinas, hotels and other businesses that support us and again does nothing to help sustain the king mackerel stocks for either recreational or commercial anglers.
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1/23/17Alison Johnsonajohnson@oceana.orgOceanaOceana, the largest international ocean conservation organization solely focused on protecting the world’s oceans, appreciates the opportunity to submit comments on the Scoping Document Coral Amendment 7 - Recommended Coral Areas Identified as Priority Habitats for Management Consideration in the Gulf of Mexico (“Scoping Document”). Although deep sea coral inhabit cold, dark, deep water, they are equally as important and complex as their shallow-water counterparts. Deep sea corals offer protection from currents and predators, act as nurseries for juvenile fish, and provide feeding, breeding and spawning areas for numerous fish and shellfish species. Some deep sea corals may also be sources of compounds for the development of new drugs and medical treatments. As with shallow water coral, deep sea coral is also vulnerable to environmental disturbances such as climate change, ocean acidification and pollution as well as physical impacts, including mineral extraction, cable trenching and fishing activities. Oceana applauds the Gulf Council for their interest in protecting deep sea coral and allowing the public and other stakeholders to be involved in this important process. Scoping is a critically important part of the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). To comply with NEPA requirements for scoping as well as requirements for conservation and management of deep sea corals under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act (“Magnuson-Stevens Act,” “MSA” or “the Act”), the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (“Gulf Council”) must significantly amend and improve Amendment 7 following the conclusion of scoping. Oceana urges the Gulf Council to amend the Amendment 7 to incorporate the following recommendations:
 Amendment 7 should include a mechanism to protect deep sea coral under the Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 303(b)(2) discretionary provision in the event protection as Essential Fish Habitat (“EFH”) is ineffective or inappropriate for deep sea coral areas.
 Amendment 7 should include an alternative that manages deep sea corals using the discretionary deep sea coral authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the management approach described in NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan.
 Amendment 7 should include a pathway for areas to be considered and managed if and when new science becomes available. Although the action described in the Scoping Document is a positive step to protecting deep sea coral in this region, Oceana recommends that the Gulf Council include more clarification and additional management authorities to protect deep sea coral in the Gulf of Mexico.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The National Marine Fisheries Service (“Fisheries Service”) and the Gulf Council began managing coral in the Gulf of Mexico jointly with the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council in 1982. Since then, over 100 species of coral have been added to the Coral Fisheries
Management Plan (“FMP”), which is now managed separately by each Council. In 2013, a group of coral and fisheries scientists were brought together by the Gulf Council to discuss how coral may be affected by fishing activities. One of the recommendations from this workshop was to reevaluate coral areas in the Gulf of Mexico that might warrant special protection. Methods to protect coral and coral habitat from activities other than direct harvest include Section 303(b)(2)(B) of the Magnuson Stevens Act or designating particular sites within existing coral Essential Fish Habitat (“EFH”) as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (“HAPC”). In 2014, the Gulf Council convened a group of scientists who identified 47 areas, including HAPCs that are in need of protection. After reviewing the list, the Gulf Council consulted with
user groups who would be affected by potential fishing regulation changes by convening their Shrimp, Reef Fish, Coral, and Spiny Lobster Advisory Panels. In August 2016, the Gulf Council’s Scientific Advisors on Coral (“Coral SSC”), the Coral and Shrimp Advisory Panel and a group of longline fishermen further narrowed down the initial 47 areas to 15 priority areas plus seven additional deep water areas that do not require fishing regulations.4A. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) NEPA requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impacts of major federal actions significantly affecting the health of the human environment. Federal agencies evaluate these significant impacts through an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”). Federal agencies must consider alternatives to their proposed actions as well as the environmental impacts of the proposed action and its alternatives. The Council on Environmental Quality considers the analysis of alternatives to be the “heart” of the EIS. An EIS must “rigorously explore[]” “all reasonable alternatives” and the decision maker must consider all such alternatives. Where there are potentially a large number of alternatives, the EIS must analyze and compare “a reasonable number of examples, covering the full spectrum of alternatives.” Scoping is “[a]n early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action.”10 The purpose of the scoping process is to determine the scope or range of impacts of the proposed action on the human environment. The scoping process determines some of the issues associated with the action and may be used to develop action alternatives as well. B. Magnuson-Stevens Act In 1996, the Sustainable Fisheries Act was signed into law, amending the Magnuson-Stevens Act and mandating numerous science, management and conservation elements of FMPs with the fundamental goals of preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, protecting EFH, minimizing bycatch, enhancing research and improving monitoring. The 1996 amendments require the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils (“Councils”) to describe and identify EFH for all fisheries and to minimize, to the extent practicable, the adverse effects of fishing on EFH. In addition, the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that federal agencies consult with the Fisheries Service on actions that may adversely affect EFH.
1. Essential Fish Habitat
The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines EFH as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity.” Section 303 of the Act sets forth requirements for FMPs, including the requirement to “define and identify essential fish habitat
for the fishery based on guidelines established by the [Fisheries Service] under section 305(b)(1)(A), minimize to the extent practicable adverse effects on such habitat caused by fishing, and identify other actions to encourage the conservation and enhancement of such
habitat.” EFH must be identified and described in FMPs according to the guidelines set forth under 50 C.F.R. § 600.815. The guidelines include the requirement that “Amendments to the FMP or its implementing regulations must ensure that the FMP continues to minimize to the
extent practicable adverse effects on EFH caused by fishing.”17 Under these mandatory requirements, deep sea corals that function as EFH must be conserved and protected by the Councils in their FMPs.
2. Habitat Areas of Particular Concern
In 2002, the Fisheries Service provided additional guidance to the Councils on the EFH conservation requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This guidance included a new tool for managers, HAPC, and provided the following guidance to the Councils: “EFH that is especially
important ecologically or particularly vulnerable to degradation as ‘habitat areas of particular concern’ (HAPC) to help provide additional focus for conservation efforts.” The 2002 guidance further established criteria for HAPC designation:
FMPs should identify specific types or areas of habitat within EFH as habitat areas of particular concern based on one or more of the following considerations:
(i) The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat.
(ii) The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation.
(iii) Whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type.
(iv) The rarity of the habitat type.
But regardless of these factors, HAPCs function as a subset of EFH, which is specific to species managed by a FMP.
3. Discretionary Coral Provisions
Because managing deep sea corals as EFH presented some Councils with problems, Congress amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2007 to give the Fisheries Service and Councils explicit authority to conserve and protect deep sea corals, even where deep sea corals have not be designated as EFH. Section 303(b)(2) of the Act provides that any FMP prepared by a Council or the Fisheries Service may:
(B) designate such zones in areas where deep sea corals are identified under section 408, to protect deep sea corals from physical damage from fishing gear or to prevent loss or damage to such fishing gear from interactions with deep sea corals, after considering long-term sustainable uses of fishery resources in such areas; and
(C) with respect to any closure of an area under this Act that prohibits all fishing, ensure that such closure—
(i) is based on the best scientific information available;
(ii) includes criteria to assess the conservation benefit of the closed area;
(iii) establishes a timetable for review of the closed area’s performance that is consistent with the purposes of the closed area; and
(iv) is based on an assessment of the benefits and impacts of the closure, including its size, in relation to other management measures (either alone or in combination with such measures), including the benefits and impacts of limiting access to: users of the area, overall fishing activity, fishery science, and fishery and marine conservation.
Put simply, the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act now authorizes the Councils to conserve deep sea corals wherever they occur regardless of whether those areas are EFH for a managed species. This authority was first used by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in 2015 to create the Frank Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area.
4. Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program
In 2007, Congress also added the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program (“the Program”) at Section 408 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to establish a program to identify existing research, map coral locations and monitor activity in known deep sea coral areas. In
addition to biennial reporting to Congress, under the Program, the Fisheries Service collaborates on research about deep sea corals with other federal agencies, international partners, and non-governmental and academic scientists. This Program is a useful resource for the
Councils and has been especially useful for the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils as they consider management of deep sea corals in their regions.
5. NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan In 2010, NOAA published its Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems: Research, Management, and International Cooperation (“2010 Strategic Plan”) to provide guidance to the Councils in identifying and conserving deep sea corals. This important document cites four Magnuson-Stevens Act authorities26 to protect deep sea corals that should be explored by the Councils in developing management actions to conserve deep-sea corals:
 Designate zones to protect deep sea corals from physical damage from fishing gear (MSA § 303(b)(2)) – Discretionary. The 2010 Strategic Plan provides clear and universal guidance to fisheries managers in the agency methodology to conserve both adequately
surveyed areas and inadequately surveyed areas. NOAA uses a precautionary approach (discussed below in Figure 1) to manage bottom-tending gear (“BTG”), especially mobile BTG and other adverse impacts of fishing on deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.
 Minimize bycatch to the extent practicable (National Standard 9; MSA § 301(a)(9)) – Mandatory. Deep sea corals are considered fish by the Magnuson-Stevens Act and are therefore subject to the requirement to minimize bycatch. Some Councils have historically used this important provision of the MSA to support deep-sea coral management measures.
 Identify and describe EFH and minimize, to the extent practicable, adverse effects caused by fishing (MSA § 305(b)) – Mandatory. Where appropriate and designated under the FMPs of a region, Councils can and should minimize the adverse effects of fishing gear on deep sea coral and also conserve deep sea corals from adverse effects of non-fishing activities on these EFH areas.
 Include management measures in FMPs to conserve target and non-target species and habitats (MSA § 303(b)(12)) – Discretionary. This recognizes the role of fishing in the broader marine ecosystem and provides the Councils with the authority to manage fishing in this context.
Each of these authorities and requirements of the Act are important for the Council to consider when developing Amendment 7 to conserve corals across the Gulf of Mexico region.
III. DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMENDMENT 7
Oceana has commented previously that the Scoping Guide and Scoping Document for Amendment 7 are lacking information on both the background for the proposed action as well as the process to consider alternatives. In spite of these deficiencies, the Gulf Council should take
the opportunity provided through the scoping process to expand the scope of Amendment 7, and develop a full range of alternatives that utilize the legal authorities available to protect deep sea corals under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and agency guidance. Collectively, the alternatives adopted in Amendment 7 should achieve meaningful, effective conservation outcomes for deepsea corals in the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, Amendment 7 should incorporate the following recommendations in the range of reasonable alternatives developed and considered in this important action:
A. Amendment 7 Should Include A Mechanism To Protect Deep Sea Coral
Under The Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 303(B)(2)Discretionary Provision In The Event Protection As Essential Fish Habitat (“EFH”) Is Ineffective Or Inappropriate For Deep Sea Coral Areas. Option 1 of the Scoping Document states: Under the definition of coral EFH, wherever coral exists is considered coral EFH. Where corals exist in sufficient numbers or diversity would qualify an area as a HAPC as long as it meets one of the HAPC requirements: ecologically important, habitat that is sensitive to human induced degradation, located in an environmentally stressed area, or considered rare. All corals are sensitive to human-induced habitat degradation by fishing and non-fishing activities. Although the EFH pathway provides the Gulf Council with the ability to conserve corals with respect to both fishing and non-fishing activities, the Gulf Council should proceed cautiously with this approach because it contains a number of pitfalls that could ultimately limit the Gulf Council’s ability to effectively manage these areas. First, this option is limited to the number of species that are managed under the Gulf Council’s coral FMP.29 This list contains a limited selection of the stony and black coral species, but is not a comprehensive list of all deep sea coral species potentially present in the region. This narrow range of species fails to capture the diversity of deep sea corals known to be found in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Cold-Water Corals - The Biology and Geology of Deep-Sea Coral Habitats, there are five cold water coral taxa that contribute significantly to cold-water coral habitats by providing reef frameworks or other structural habitat including Scleractinia (stony coral), Antipatharia (black coral), Zoanthidae (zooanthids), Octocorallia (soft coral) and Stylasteridae (fire coral).30 Within the stony coral taxa are four important framework building families including Pocilloporidae, Oculinidae, Caryophylliidae and endrophylliidae. There are also seven families of potential habitat-forming black coral including Antipathidae, Aphanipathidae, Cladopathidae, Stylopathidae, Myriopathidae, Schizopathidae and Leiopathidae. Furthermore, the FMP should be expanded to include all species of fire corals potentially present in the area as well as amended to add zooanthids and soft coral. Given the relative recency of deep sea coral exploration, it is probable that new species will be discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. The FMP for deep sea coral should be a dynamic list that can be easily revised. The EFH pathway provides the Gulf Council with very little flexibility to manage the wide swath of deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico that is beyond the range of the listed species. If the Gulf Council proceeds with an EFH-based approach, Oceana urges the Gulf Council to take clear action in Amendment 7 to include the full range of known coral and sponge species readily available on NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program Data Portal as managed coral species under this FMP and clearly discuss the use of deep sea coral as EFH by all species managed by the Gulf Council. Further, the species language in this option is highly subjective and open to misinterpretation. Specifically, the term “sufficient numbers or diversity” should be clearly defined, enumerated and measurable to inform the Amendment 7 process and future management actions that address coral conservation and management.
B. Amendment 7 Should Include An Alternative That Manages Deep Sea
Corals Using The Discretionary Deep Sea Coral Authority Of The Magnuson-Stevens Act And The Management Approach Described In NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan. Conservation of deep sea corals using the EFH pathway has frustrated fisheries managers around the country, a fact that led to the inclusion of deep sea coral management authority in the most recent reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. NOAA followed this with clear and useful guidance for fisheries managers to tackle this complex issue that historically has been outside of
the scope of fisheries management. This strategy was used successfully by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in 2015 to create the Frank Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area, which balanced the fishery uses of deepwater areas with conservation of deep sea corals.35The Gulf Council should follow the example of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and include in the a range of reasonable alternatives in Amendment 7 an alternative that follows NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan in consultation with the staff of the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program. This alternative should follow the 2010 Strategic Plan and include management alternatives for the following areas.
1. Known Deep Sea Coral Areas
Areas of known or suspected deep sea coral occurrence where BTG is allowed should be closed from future fishing activity to conserve fragile corals. These documented areas are worthy of protection and this alternative will provide a proven means to afford that protection. Further, areas that are currently closed to BTG should be prioritized for enhanced monitoring, surveillance and enforcement. In addition, those areas with recent BTG activity should be strictly monitored for bycatch. Oceana encourages the Gulf Council to support and analyze this alternative with an additional consideration of known deep sea coral areas beyond the 2014/16 HAPC process and include a broader range of stakeholders with expertise in deep sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico. This should include experts in at-sea exploration as well as those with expertise in predictive modeling of deep sea coral, a process that has been shown to be effective at predicting coral presence based on a range of factors including substrate, current, and bottom contour. Following the completion of this analysis, the Gulf Council should consider gear-specific management of the areas identified in this process as deep sea coral management areas to minimize the effect of fishing gears on these areas.
2. Inadequately Surveyed Areas
The vast majority of the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. EEZ is inadequately surveyed for the presence of deep sea corals. In such cases, NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan encourages fishery managers to use the precautionary approach and to close these areas to future fishing activity by “freezing the footprint” until they have been adequately surveyed. Oceana encourages the Gulf Council to accept and develop this alternative using a depth-based approach to determine the extent of recent fishing, delineate the unfished areas of the Gulf of Mexico and close all waters deeper than the current footprint of the fishery. This process should be based on a careful analysis of recent fishing activity in cooperation with the fishing industry and other stakeholders. If done correctly, this approach should not have an effect on current fisheries and will simply limit the expansion of fisheries into deeper waters until those areas have been surveyed and determined to be free of deep sea coral communities.
C. Amendment 7 Should Include A Pathway For Areas To Be Considered And Managed If And When New Science Becomes Available.
Deep sea coral research and management is a rapidly evolving field with new discoveries, tools, and approaches being developed every year. Many areas in the Gulf of Mexico have yet to be mapped and it is important that Amendment 7 is dynamic and updated to include newly
discovered areas and to remove areas previously thought to have deep sea coral, yet later confirmed to be absent. The Gulf Council should include alternatives in Amendment 7 that allow this new information to be considered and included in future management actions. Specifically, Amendment 7 should include an expedited management pathway for newly described and discovered deep sea coral areas to be conserved in the regions’ FMPs. Similarly, a mechanism should be developed to remove areas if coral are confirmed not to be present where fishery management measures are not needed.
IV. CONCLUSION
Coral Amendment 7 is a step in the right direction for protecting and managing deep sea coral in this region. Amendment 7 offers the Gulf Council the opportunity to take clear action to conserve important parts of the Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem. Unfortunately, the action
presented in the scoping document fails to take full advantage of this opportunity and does not adequately address the issues that are unique to deep sea coral conservation. Oceana urges the Gulf Council to align Amendment 7 more closely to the comprehensive strategy outlined in NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan instead of the EFH/HAPC pathway suggested in the Scoping Document.
Oceana urges the Gulf Council incorporate the following recommendations in Amendment 7:
 Amendment 7 should include a mechanism to protect deep sea coral under the Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 303(b)(2) discretionary provision in the event protection as Essential Fish Habitat (“EFH”) is ineffective or inappropriate for deep sea coral areas.
 Amendment 7 should include an alternative that manages deep sea corals using the discretionary deep sea coral authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the management approach described in NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan.
 Amendment 7 should include a pathway for areas to be considered and managed if and when new science becomes available.
Oceana looks forward to working with and providing additional input to the Gulf Council as Coral Amendment 7 moves forward. Oceana appreciates the chance to provide written commenton this very important issue.
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2/24/2017 16:08:20Felicia Lewisfelicialewis1@hotmail.comPhiladelphiaPrivate Recreational AnglerI urge you to establish strong protections for deep water corals and essential fish habitat. I ask you to use new scientific information to designate new HAPCs. These deep water corals are a national treasure and are essential to a sustainable, healthy gulf and healthy fish that we can all enjoy for generations.
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2/26/2017 9:32:06john powellfpowell321@hotmail.com35446Private Recreational AnglerNone of your options for "rebuilding" the trigger fishery are suitable. No matter what the flawed data says, the triggerfish population in the Gulf is healthy. How can fisheries decisions be made when the best available data is known to be corrupt? But once again we go down the same wrong path. This style of "protection" is devastating not only for the fishermen and coastal economies, but also for the health of our Gulf ecosystems. The damaging agenda of The Environmental Defense Fund needs to be removed from future fisheries decisions, because it has become obvious that the health of the Gulf environment is not their concern. Here are four options that the council should have to choose from: (1) Data providers are incompetent. (2) Data providers are corrupt. (3) Data providers are carrying out the radical agenda of the EDF. (4) All of the above.
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2/28/17Ang KorAngkorday2@Yahoo.comTallahassee, FLIn recent years, scientists have discovered corals scattered in dense patches throughout the Gulf, spanning the edge of the continental shelf, primarily at depths of 165 to 660 feet and also more than 9,000 feet below the surface. These sensitive corals, some of which grow slowly for thousands of years, thrive in the cold, dark depths. Yet deep-sea corals face many threats and once damaged may take centuries or longer to recover. They are susceptible to warming waters and ocean acidification, and can be harmed by oil spills, underwater pipelines, and communications cables that are dragged along the seafloor and kick up sediment, which can suffocate marine life. Similarly, boat anchors, crab traps, and some methods of deep-water fishing, such as trawling (dragging large nets along the seafloor), may also stir sediment or break corals. Fishing lines and weights deployed on the sea bottom can harm corals, too. Current policies safeguard only some of these fragile coral hot spots by prohibiting anchoring or the use of certain types of deep-fishing gear in these areas. It’s important to protect more of these ancient jewels. Please implement tough, long-lasting protections for corals, sea animals, and the entire ecosystem. What we do will return to us in the future.
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2/28/2017 15:15:39Cynthia Merkeycmerkey@gmail.comOcalaOtherI support any efforts to protect deep sea corals. We are losing too many of these fragile systems everyday. Restrict fishing that damages these reefs. This will.benefit fishermen in the long run.
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2/28/2017 16:39:50Marc AleepAngkorday2@Yahoo.comTallahasseeIn recent years, scientists have discovered corals scattered in dense patches throughout the Gulf, spanning the edge of the continental shelf, primarily at depths of 165 to 660 feet and also more than 9,000 feet below the surface.

These sensitive corals, some of which grow slowly for thousands of years, thrive in the cold, dark depths.

Yet deep-sea corals face many threats and once damaged may take centuries or longer to recover. They are susceptible to warming waters and ocean acidification, and can be harmed by oil spills, underwater pipelines, and communications cables that are dragged along the seafloor and kick up sediment, which can suffocate marine life. Similarly, boat anchors, crab traps, and some methods of deep-water fishing, such as trawling (dragging large nets along the seafloor), may also stir sediment or break corals. Fishing lines and weights deployed on the sea bottom can harm corals, too.

Current policies safeguard only some of these fragile coral hot spots by prohibiting anchoring or the use of certain types of deep-fishing gear in these areas. It’s important to protect more of these ancient jewels.

Please implement tough, long-lasting protections for corals, sea animals, and the entire ecosystem. What we do will return to us in the future.
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3/1/2017 11:53:06Barbara Beierlbarbara-beierl@comcast.netNashua, NH 03062NGO, OtherWe must preserve the corals of the world. We are destroying our planet and must stop. It is a self-evident truth. But, selfishly, we act on our own selfish interests and motives and forget about the larger picture. Pleasure-seeking is not the way to live!
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3/2/2017 12:10:08Mary Ann Cernakmacernakphd@verizon.netHowell, NJ 07731Private Recreational Angler, OtherAs someone who wants to be able to continuing enjoying fishing and snorkeling I want to express my strong support for actions that will protect, not destroy and jeopardize the coral reefs in the Gulf. The reefs are already under severe stress; failure to take every action possible to save them will result in this vital resource being destroyed.,
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3/3/2017 16:52:37Joanie Steinhausjoanie@tirn.netGalvestonNGOComments for Deep Coral Amendment 7

Thank you to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, on behalf of Turtle Island Restoration Network, for giving the public an opportunity to comment on Amendment 7.

Due to the incredible diversity that coral reefs provide, organisms benefit from many things that they have to offer. They are used for feeding grounds, breeding, nursery, and commuting. Deep-sea coral life spans can range from hundreds to thousands of years, maturing at an extremely slow rate, but their vulnerability to human activities puts them at risk of a much shorter life cycle and less time to reproduce.

Deep-sea coral already resides in low temperature, low light, low oxygen water but they are not completely safe from human impacts. The many species of black coral and stony coral are spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico. With human activities such as commercial fishing increases carbon dioxide in the water, the development of coral species slows. When damaged, they may take hundreds of years to recover. There are a few things that can be done to provide these complex systems with more protection which will therefore increase biodiversity, fisheries, and even biomedical research.

By designating new Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, the deep water coral through the Gulf will have less human impact on its growth. Limiting the commercial fishing (bottom trawls, traps, fishing gear) can improve not only the maturation of coral but also increase fish and invertebrate diversity as the coral thrives. The increase in quantity and diversity will improve commercial fishing and the quality of target species used for consumption, increasing their value. This will also help to decrease overfishing.

Habitat Areas of Particular Concern fall under four categories, one of the four being habitat sensitive to human induced degradation. Any and every coral falls under this category. This does not mean every area with coral/coral reefs needs to be designated a HAPC. Redefining an HAPC will provide a better understanding when deciding regulations for protecting these habitats. Although all coral is important, some reproduce slowly and mature slowly (deep-sea coral.) Focus should be placed on coral that is impacted the most and most often by human activities.

Fifteen areas are being proposed to fall under HAPC and eight more to be HAPC’s without fishing regulations. Twenty three total areas are being considered to become HAPC’s, about 621 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is over 600,000 square miles with commercial vessels often commuting hundreds of miles for days at a time so the new proposed HAPC’s of deep-sea coral should only improve fishing conditions. Lastly, reincorporating Octocorals into the Fisheries Management Unit could only benefit the ecosystem, therefore benefiting the organisms affected by them and then fisheries as well.

Turtle Island Restoration Network stands in support of designating all the proposed areas as HAPCs, and reincorporating the Octocorals into the Fisheries Management Unit.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.
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3/4/2017 15:51:47Dan Silverdsilverla@me.comLos Angeles, CA 90012NGOThe Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council should protect corals in at least 15 areas by restricting the use of certain kinds of fishing gear that could damage these vulnerable marine animals.
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3/20/2017 2:34:53Carol Gliddencarolcg93@gmail.comKalamazoo, MI 49008OtherIn order to survive, the human race needs healthy oceans, which are not possible without healthy, THRIVING coral reefs.

We must hope that it is not too late for us to rein in our shortsighted hubris, and to act AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE to restore the health of our oceans.
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3/27/17Breg Southworthgreg@southworthconsulting.comTo whom it may concern, The Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (GOMFMC). The OOC is an offshore oil and natural gas trade association that serves as a technical advocate for companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Founded in 1948, the OOC has evolved into the principal technical representative regarding regulation of offshore oil and natural gas exploration, development, and producing operations. The OOC’s member companies are responsible for approximately 90% of the oil and natural gas production from the GoM. The comments below are provided on the Draft Scoping Document and Scoping Guide for the proposed Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 and are offered without prejudice to any of our members who may offer differing or opposing views: 1. The Draft Scoping Document does not Offer an Adequate Number of Options for Consideration The three options listed in the scoping document all lead to the conclusion that action is necessary through the creation of new habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC), redefining existing HAPC, or reincorporating deep octocorals into the fishery management unit (FMU). An adequate analysis should include additional options, including an option of taking no action, or the use of the GOMFMC’s discretionary authority to create “deep- sea coral zones” under §303(b)(2)(B) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). The MSA §303(b)(2)(B) gives Fishery Management Councils discretionary authority to protect deep-sea corals from fishing. Under §303(b)(2)(B), Councils may designate “deep-sea coral zones,” including protecting deep- sea corals from physical damage from fishing gear and establishing measures to limit damage to fishing gear from interactions with deep-sea corals. A “deep-sea coral zone” designation would offer additional protection, and should be considered in the Draft Scoping Document and any future proposed actions. A sound decision or recommendation cannot be made if there has not been an evaluation of sufficient options. It appears that the use of an HAPC designation has already been selected as the final outcome. The OOC recommends that the GOMFMC expand the number of options considered under this proposal including evaluation of a “No Action” alternative and the use of “deep-sea coral zones” as a protective designation. 2. Impacts on Other GoM Regulatory Programs The Draft Scoping Document raises questions of how the proposed options will integrate with designations managed by other federal agencies. For example, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is currently considering alternatives for expanding the Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary. In addition, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has requirements for the avoidance and protection of LOUISIANA OFFICE 2400 Veterans Memorial Boulevard Suite 206 Kenner, Louisiana 70062 (504) 904-7966 TEXAS OFFICE One Briar Lake Plaza - 2000 W. Sam Houston Parkway Suite 1200 Houston, Texas 77042 (281) 299-5036
biologically sensitive features (water depths < 300m) and deepwater corals (water depths > 300m) that are used when leasing tracts for oil and natural gas exploration, development, and transportation activities. The GOMFMC should consider how proposed Amendment 7 integrates and/or overlaps with the proposals and existing regulations of other federal agencies. Failure to do so will create unnecessary confusion with additional, and potentially conflicting, regulatory requirements that are not well understood, nor easily implemented. The Draft Scoping Document does not outline how the proposed options for creating HAPC’s are different from, overlap with, or are made redundant by, the other federal programs in the GoM. The OOC strongly recommends that the Scoping Document clearly describes how Amendment 7 interacts with other GoM offshore federal and state regulatory requirements/guidance. As discussed earlier, Fishery Management Councils may designate “deep-sea coral zones” under the MSA. Use of a “deep-sea coral zone” designation would provide protection, and would mitigate potential conflicts and confusion with other regulations and activities in the GoM. 3. Economic Analysis is Missing from the Draft Scoping Document The GoM is an environmentally important resource, but it is also a significant economic resource to the nation. Therefore, it is critically important that proposals, such as Amendment 7, also address economic cost/benefits. The Draft Scoping Document, in its current form, does not address economic resources and the potential impact that proposed Amendment 7 may have on those resources. It is also important not to limit economic analysis to only the fishing industry. A robust and thorough analysis must include economic cost/benefit impacts to all industries that rely on access to the GoM. The OOC recommends that any future evaluation include not only environmental impacts, but economic impacts as well. The OOC is a strong advocate for balancing all concerns related to the GoM. We believe that environmental protection, safety at sea, and economic development can coexist and thrive. The GoM is proof that effective management of a national environmental resource and a significant economic and energy engine can be achieved. To maintain an effective balance of all interested parties, including the public, all potential interests must be considered in proposals such as Amendment 7. Thank you for this opportunity to provide constructive comments. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss these comments in more detail, please contact me at greg@offshoreoperators.com. Sincerely Greg Southworth Associate Director Offshore Operators Committee
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3/27/17Greg Southworthgreg@offshoreoperators.comOffshore Operators CommitteeSubmitted via www.gulfcouncil.org
RE: Proposed Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7
Comments from the Offshore Operators Committee
To whom it may concern,
The Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed
Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (GOMFMC). The OOC
is an offshore oil and natural gas trade association that serves as a technical advocate for companies operating
in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Founded in 1948, the OOC has evolved into the principal technical representative
regarding regulation of offshore oil and natural gas exploration, development, and producing operations. The
OOC’s member companies are responsible for approximately 90% of the oil and natural gas production from
the GoM. The comments below are provided on the Draft Scoping Document and Scoping Guide for the
proposed Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 and are offered without prejudice to any of our members who may
offer differing or opposing views:
1. The Draft Scoping Document does not Offer an Adequate Number of Options for Consideration
The three options listed in the scoping document all lead to the conclusion that action is necessary through the
creation of new habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC), redefining existing HAPC, or reincorporating deep
octocorals into the fishery management unit (FMU). An adequate analysis should include additional options,
including an option of taking no action, or the use of the GOMFMC’s discretionary authority to create “deepsea
coral zones” under §303(b)(2)(B) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA).
The MSA §303(b)(2)(B) gives Fishery Management Councils discretionary authority to protect deep-sea corals
from fishing. Under §303(b)(2)(B), Councils may designate “deep-sea coral zones,” including protecting deepsea
corals from physical damage from fishing gear and establishing measures to limit damage to fishing gear
from interactions with deep-sea corals. A “deep-sea coral zone” designation would offer additional protection,
and should be considered in the Draft Scoping Document and any future proposed actions.
A sound decision or recommendation cannot be made if there has not been an evaluation of sufficient options.
It appears that the use of an HAPC designation has already been selected as the final outcome. The OOC
recommends that the GOMFMC expand the number of options considered under this proposal including
evaluation of a “No Action” alternative and the use of “deep-sea coral zones” as a protective designation.
2. Impacts on Other GoM Regulatory Programs
The Draft Scoping Document raises questions of how the proposed options will integrate with designations
managed by other federal agencies. For example, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is currently
considering alternatives for expanding the Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary. In addition, the
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has requirements for the avoidance and protection of biologically sensitive features (water depths < 300m) and deepwater corals (water depths > 300m) that are
used when leasing tracts for oil and natural gas exploration, development, and transportation activities.
The GOMFMC should consider how proposed Amendment 7 integrates and/or overlaps with the proposals
and existing regulations of other federal agencies. Failure to do so will create unnecessary confusion with
additional, and potentially conflicting, regulatory requirements that are not well understood, nor easily
implemented. The Draft Scoping Document does not outline how the proposed options for creating HAPC’s
are different from, overlap with, or are made redundant by, the other federal programs in the GoM. The OOC
strongly recommends that the Scoping Document clearly describes how Amendment 7 interacts with other
GoM offshore federal and state regulatory requirements/guidance.
As discussed earlier, Fishery Management Councils may designate “deep-sea coral zones” under the MSA.
Use of a “deep-sea coral zone” designation would provide protection, and would mitigate potential conflicts
and confusion with other regulations and activities in the GoM.
3. Economic Analysis is Missing from the Draft Scoping Document
The GoM is an environmentally important resource, but it is also a significant economic resource to the nation.
Therefore, it is critically important that proposals, such as Amendment 7, also address economic cost/benefits.
The Draft Scoping Document, in its current form, does not address economic resources and the potential
impact that proposed Amendment 7 may have on those resources. It is also important not to limit economic
analysis to only the fishing industry. A robust and thorough analysis must include economic cost/benefit
impacts to all industries that rely on access to the GoM. The OOC recommends that any future evaluation
include not only environmental impacts, but economic impacts as well.
The OOC is a strong advocate for balancing all concerns related to the GoM. We believe that environmental
protection, safety at sea, and economic development can coexist and thrive. The GoM is proof that effective
management of a national environmental resource and a significant economic and energy engine can be
achieved. To maintain an effective balance of all interested parties, including the public, all potential interests
must be considered in proposals such as Amendment 7.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide constructive comments. If you have any questions, or would like to
discuss these comments in more detail, please contact me at greg@offshoreoperators.com.
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2017-03-28Chad Hansonchanson@pewtrusts.orgPew Charitable TrustsOtherOn behalf of The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew), please accept these comments on the Coral Amendment 7 Scoping Document. We appreciate the progress the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (“Council”) has made on identifying important coral habitat in need of
protection. Exploration of deep-sea corals on the Gulf of Mexico’s once-unreachable seafloor is relatively new. These fragile communities host starfish, lobsters, crabs, sharks, and many fish species, including groupers and snappers. Deepwater corals in the Gulf and elsewhere may have a range of potential benefits, including biomedical uses, and scientists think they have uncovered only a fraction of those. Yet deep-sea corals face many threats and once damaged may take centuries or longer to recover. They are susceptible to warming waters and ocean acidification, and can be harmed by oil spills and industrial equipment deploying underwater pipelines and cables. Fishing lines and weights,
anchors, traps, and trawling may also stir sediment or break corals. At the Council’s request, an expert working group of deep-sea coral scientists examined data on species richness, coral cover, presence of long-lived species, presence of unusual species assemblages, and current or potential fishing pressure. Based on this information, they recommended 47 individual deep-sea coral areas for protections as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC). However, Coral
Amendment 7 identifies only 15 sites for protection with fishing regulations and another eight for boundary designations without regulations. We urge the Council to include all 47 sites in the actions and alternatives of the forthcoming Options Paper for Amendment 7, with fishing regulations similar to those for HAPCs already designated by the Council. The regulations prohibit bottom-contact fishing
gear, including trawls, bottom longlines, traps/pots, dredges, and anchors, but allow trolling, bandit, and rod and real gear, since these activities are less likely to damage corals. For heavily fished sites, this could include a tiered approach, as suggested by the Council in
recommendations addressing the scale of impacts caused by different types of fishing gear to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Other recommendations for Coral Amendment 7 include:
• Organize the amendment to group sites by location and by depth. The Council’s corals expert working group divided the Gulf into three depth zones (50-200m, 200-1000 m, >1000m or 164-656 ft., 656-3,280 ft., > 3,280 ft.), and by geographical regions (Florida, Northeast, Northwest, and South Texas). We recommend including a separate action to
address the very deep coral sites (e.g., > 1000m or 3,280 ft.) predominantly in the northeastern and northwestern regions, where little, if any, fishing occurs. This approach both corresponds with the distinct physical and biological characteristics of the various coral communities, and may make it easier for stakeholders to assess and comment on
potential impacts.
• Work with the state of Florida to reinstate deep-water octocorals in the Coral Fishery Management Plan to protect them in federal waters. Currently, octocorals are primarily harvested by the aquarium trade in nearshore waters, and monitored by the State of Florida.
• Ensure that any of the sites identified by the Council’s corals expert work group that do not ultimately get included in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) expansion are included in this amendment. Deep-Sea Corals in the Gulf of Mexico Researchers and fishermen have known about the presence of deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico for decades, particularly off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, where exploration for oil and gas resources has been most extensive. Moreover, scientific research in the past decade or so
has provided new insights into the complexity, diversity, and fragility of corals in depths from about 150 feet to beyond several thousand feet. Specifically, between 2007 and 2014, over 50 research cruises in the Gulf targeted coral and sponge communities, and surveyed habitat damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Important coral types found in the Gulf of Mexico include stony corals (Lophelia, Madrepora,
Madracis), black corals (Antipathes, Leiopathes), and octocorals or soft corals (Callagorgia), sometimes called gorgonians. Black and stony corals have hard skeletons while octocorals have an internal hard skeleton but soft or fleshy material on the outside. Some gorgonians are true soft corals, such as sea fans and whips, and do not have hard skeletons. All of these structure-forming corals provide habitat and are ecologically important. One type of stony coral in particular, Lophelia pertusa, is found throughout the world and is one of the more prominent
habitat-forming corals in the Gulf of Mexico, typically residing in depths of 300-800 meters (~1000 to ~2600 feet). Scientific reports indicate Lophelia reefs have as high biodiversity as some shallow-water coral reefs. Coral communities living in waters shallower than about 300 feet (where sunlight is lower but still penetrates to the bottom in an area known as the mesophotic zone), can be much different from corals that live in dark, colder waters often associated with the continental slope. In these zones, shallow-water coral are sometimes found along with deep-sea coral species. In the ocean depths, corals often grow very slowly, about 4 millimeters to 25 millimeters per year. Individual coral can sometimes be hundreds to thousands of years old. Mounds of corals,
which may include dead and live corals, can date to tens of thousands to millions of years old. An individual black coral from Hawaii was aged to over 4,000 years old.5 Scientists documented black corals over 2,000 years old in the Gulf of Mexico. Deep-sea corals provide complex and diverse habitat for a variety of marine life, including economically important fish and shrimp. Coral ecosystems provide nursery grounds, protection from predators and contribute to reproduction and feeding for a number of species, including those targeted by commercial fisheries. While research on species associations with these corals is still young, important relationships have been documented in the United States and throughout the world. For instance, Oculina reefs off the east coast of Florida and gorgonian communities off Alaska have been identified as essential fish habitat (EFH) for federally managed species. Fishermen observations and scientific surveys are also finding greater abundance of various fish species around deep-coral habitat locally and worldwide. Examples include:
• Redfish around Lophelia reefs in the Atlantic Ocean
• Ling and tusk species in the northeast Atlantic Ocean,
• Relationships with reef fish around Oculina reefs off east Florida,
• Orange roughy aggregations off Australia,
• Overall greater species abundance in numerous locations, such as Norway.
Specific associations of fish and crab species with deep-sea corals are reported in the Gulf of Mexico, and the science indicates coral ecosystems may be preferred habitat for some or all life stages. For example, economically important reef fish including scamp, snowy grouper, warsaw grouper, and speckled hind frequent coral habitat. While not currently targeted by the commercial fishery in the Gulf, golden crab are often found with Lophelia mounds off east Florida where a small fishery exists. Red crab aggregate in colonies down to 1000 meters or 3,280 feet. Blackbelly rosefish, which supports a small commercial fishery, with the potentialfor increased targeting, live in coral habitat. Catshark egg casings have been observed, sometimes by the thousands throughout an area, attached to gorgonian at Mississippi Canyon 751 in the northern Gulf. Scientists think they have discovered only a fraction of the potential value of deep-sea corals. For example, some octocorals possess properties that might be useful in treating cancer. The skeletons of black corals contain growth rings similar to trees that provide clues to changes in ocean temperature and water chemistry over time. Bamboo corals may have a use in bone
grafting. And several species of deep-sea sponges that share coral habitats contain compounds with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and even anti-tumor properties.
Threats to Deep-Sea Corals
Corals are extremely vulnerable to human activities such as anchoring (by fishing and nonfishing vessels), fishing with bottom-contact gear, and oil and gas exploration and extraction. Additionally, corals are susceptible to adverse effects from ocean acidification caused by
increasing carbon dioxide absorption and elevating seawater temperatures.
Fishing Gear Impact on Corals
Fishing gear that disturbs the ocean floor, including bottom-trawl gear, traps, pots, anchors, and bottom longlines can all damage corals. Current regulations prohibit the use of fish traps in federal waters of the Gulf; however, shrimp trawls and bottom longlines are heavily used. The
golden crab fishery off Florida’s west coast has used traps and pots, but indications suggest that the fishery is not currently active in this region.
Deep-sea coral communities in the Gulf harbor economically important fish species such as deepwater groupers, tilefish and other species targeted by commercial fishermen and recreational anglers. Commercial fishermen fish longline gear in some of these coral areas, particularly in the northeastern Gulf and around Pulley Ridge off southwest Florida. Also, fishermen using vertical “bandit” gear fish on the shallower banks, particularly in the northeastern Gulf around the Pinnacles region off Alabama. Commercial trawlers target royal red shrimp that live near deepsea corals in the northern Gulf (e.g., Viosca Knolls), but also target inshore species such as brown and white shrimp, particularly along the shallower banks of the western Gulf. However, much of the fishing and trawling in the Gulf occurs away from these identified coral areas.
In areas closer to shore, charter for-hire and private recreational anglers fish reef banks with conventional hook-and-line gear. Existing HAPC regulations do not prohibit bandit or rod and reel gear, as those mostly do not contact the bottom. Similarly, shallower coral banks may be accessible to SCUBA diving, and current regulations allow that activity at HAPCs. However, regulations do prohibit anchoring in HAPCs.
Because the use of trawls is more commonplace worldwide, a large body of scientific data exists on the impacts from this gear.25 Bottom trawls can cause significant damage to corals directly, in
addition to smothering them when they stir up sediment. The most significant trawl damage occurs at the initial pass through coral areas, so preventing that initial damage is critically important for long-term protection. In conversations with members of the industry, shrimpers
noted that they avoid areas with corals so as not to damage or lose their expensive gear. Designating coral sites for protection could help them steer clear. Damage from bottom longlines can occur when hooks and lines contact the corals directly. This is particularly the case during
gear retrieval, when large swaths may suffer damage. Additionally, longlines may get entangled around coral when hooked fish struggle and try to swim into coral areas. When disturbed, these slow-growing, long-lived corals can take dozens or hundreds of years to recover, if recovery occurs at all. A recent study off Scotland showed no signs of recovery in
coral damaged by bottom trawling eight years after the establishment of a marine protected area. That is consistent with similar studies across the world and in the Southeast. Recovery of corals in the Oculina Banks off the east coast of Florida has been very slow, as has recovery of
offshore reefs near Australia and New Zealand. Studies indicate that maintaining high biodiversity of habitat through protection from physical damage helps provide resilience to these areas so they can remain highly functional ecologically. This argues strongly for including
fishing regulations for proposed deepwater HAPCs where little to no fishing is occurring at present in an effort to avoid damage to fragile corals, rather than waiting for fishing effort to move into these areas, when it may be too late. Scientists have documented damage to corals from fishing throughout the world, including other U.S. regions. Trawling had decimated Oculina (stony coral) off the east coast of Florida since the 1970s while areas in Alaska have documented damage caused by trawling and longlining. In the Alaska study, trawling damaged about 14% of corals overall off the Aleutian Islands, where 49% of intensively fished areas were damaged. In areas off the Aleutians where longliners
frequently fish, approximately 15% of the coral coverage was damaged. In a review of remotely operated vessel (ROV) video surveys off Italy in the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas, one study found evidence of lost fishing gear in up to 36% of the video frames observed.38 Other studies
report whole and broken coral coming up in trawls and on longlines as
bycatch. Although scientists have documented impacts to coral in the Gulf of Mexico, the damage thus far to proposed coral sites from trawling, bottom longlining and other types of fishing gear is not as
significant when compared with other regions in the U.S. and around the world. Largely, these impacts are observations of lost gear such as lines, cables, and nets, or destruction caused by heavy anchors, likely from large non-fishing ships. Specifically, damage from fishing gear was
observed at many of the banks in the proposed expansion of the Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and derelict gear such as trawl nets, lines, and rope was found as well. Additionally, a study in the northeastern Gulf monitoring for damage caused by the 2010
Deepwater Horizon spill found fishing debris in coral areas. Oil and Gas Activities and Deep-Sea Corals Oil and gas industry activities can potentially harm coral communities. Damage from oil and gas
activities has been documented within East Flower Garden Bank of the FGBNMS and in several banks in the northern Gulf. The biggest concern relates to the catastrophic releases of oil or gas into the seawater and onto the seafloor, as happened with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 off Louisiana. Several years after that catastrophe, 38% to 50% of observed large gorgonians were injured, most likely from oil contamination on sites near the blowout. Additionally, physical impacts can occur from drilling and placement of heavy structures (e.g., cables, pipelines, platforms, anchors) on the seafloor and potentially on or near corals. Moreover, the process of removing decommissioned oil and gas platforms can harm corals in addition to
killing fish that use these structures as habitat. The release of fluids and muds in the drilling process also poses a risk of contaminating the seafloor and stirring sediment. Protecting coral habitat has taken on new urgency and focus after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A report from an expert group commissioned by Pew in response to the spill
recommended establishing, “deep-sea biological preserves to protect organisms such as coral that provide habitat structure and install observing systems to monitor the mysterious and intriguing deep-sea system.” The oil spill damaged deep-sea coral habitat and communities
near the well, and some of those affected habitats are included in the Council’s original list of coral sites in need of protection. In addition, the oil spill provides a funding opportunity to study the deep-sea environment and coral communities. Almost $300 million is available in settlement funds to study, protect, and restore benthic habitat,
60 including areas under HAPC consideration. The Gulf Council has a limited role in protecting habitat from oil and gas activities. The Council,
in conjunction with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), may consult with BOEM in order to ensure industrial activities do not affect protected resources and habitat. Consultation does not guarantee full protection from energy development activities as BOEM regulations apply whether within a council-designated HAPC or not. However, BOEM regulations stipulate permitted oil and gas activities through their “Notice to Lessees” intended to protect biologically sensitive shallow-water communities and deep-water benthic communities. While regulations do not prevent oil and gas operations within HAPCs or the Flower Garden Banks, the agency requires buffers from industrial activities around
areas designated as “no activity zones” (NAZ), including coral habitat.
Protecting Deep-Sea Corals Coral Amendment 7 seeks to establish protections for deep-sea coral as HAPC under the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and
Management Act (MSA). The MSA requires regional councils to identify and describe EFH, consider actions to conserve and enhance such habitat, and to minimize, to the extent practicable, the adverse effects on such habitat caused by fishing. HAPCs are a specific category of EFH
that are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by fishing operations. For areas identified as HAPCs, fishery management plans must identify actions to encourage the conservation and enhancement of EFH, including recommended options to avoid, minimize, or compensate for
adverse effects. Specifically, one recommended option for managing adverse effects from fishing includes time and area closures, such as HAPCs that limit or prohibit fishing or specific equipment. We believe that protecting coral habitat while still allowing fishing near, but not
among, corals is compatible for all 47 coral areas identified by the Council’s coral experts. This will provide protection from potentially damaging activities, and is an important step toward ecosystem-based fisheries management. History of Coral Protections in the Gulf of Mexico
In 2005, the Council adopted HAPC status for 17 areas, largely in the northwestern Gulf, through its Generic Amendment 3 (GA 3) to protect deep-sea coral habitat. The Council implemented regulations to prohibit bottom-contact fishing gear in six of these areas. Also in GA 3, the
Council adopted 10 HAPC boundaries that do not have specific regulations, and thus remain open to bottom- contact fishing gear. In adopting these areas as HAPCs, each met one or more of
the following criteria:
• Importance of ecological function provided by the habitat;
• Extent to which the area or habitat is sensitive to human induced degradation;
• Whether and to what extent development activities are stressing the habitat; and
• Rarity of the habitat type.
In 2014, the Council designated a Corals Expert Working Group to identify additional coral areas for potential protection, as recent research cruises had identified important, but unprotected coral hotspots around the Gulf. The Council’s coral scientists, including the Council’s Deep Sea
Coral Expert Working Group and the Coral SSC, reviewed all available data and originally recommended 47 coral areas for protection by examining scientific data on species richness, coral cover, presence of long-lived species, presence of unusual species assemblages, and current or potential fishing pressure. All of these sites meet at least one, if not all four, of the criteria the Council used to determine whether to protect corals in GA3. The coral experts further recommended that all 10 of the existing HAPCs with no fishing regulations get full protection, including regulations. Nine of these areas are in the northwestern
Gulf while the other, a section of Pulley Ridge, is off southwest Florida (Appendix 2, Figures 1-5). By far, the Pulley Ridge HAPC is the largest existing area, and the proposed expansion of this site would make it the largest new area. About 4.4% (133 square miles) of the Pulley Ridge
HAPC (total area = 3,049 sq. mi) has fishing regulations to protect coral habitat while another 257 sq. mi. (8.4% of Pulley Ridge HAPC) is recommended for HAPC expansion (Appendix 2,Figure 2). The Council then instructed the Coral SSC to prioritize the 10 sites in greatest need of protection, without providing clear guidance or criteria for selecting these sites. The Coral SSC, in conjunction with the Coral and Shrimp Advisory Panels, identified 15 sites for Coral Amendment 7, primarily after considering species richness and geographic location. One
concern is that using mainly species richness to prioritize sites may underestimate the ecological value of some coral communities. This approach essentially counts the number of species in an area, but does not directly consider the ecological function of those species, their relative abundance, distribution, or the relative size of the area surveyed by scientists. Those other factors are important to consider as well because they provide a greater level of detail and help standardize the information. Without this standardization, it is difficult to compare and identify the most important individual coral sites. Of the 47 original sites, we recognize that some areas may be more ecologically important or
more vulnerable to fishing impacts. The Coral SSC may have prioritized sites with a higher count of species types simply because more research has been conducted or a higher proportion of the habitat in that site was surveyed. Less studied sites may have significant coral habitat and /
or be more vulnerable to fishing, but the Coral SSC may not have prioritized them because of fewer research cruises in that spot. For example, the Coral SSC did not select Okeanos Ridge as a high priority area, but it contains some of the most diverse and numerous corals documented with large colonies of Lophelia and black corals (Appendix 4, Figure 6).
Recommendations for Regulations
We strongly urge that actions and alternatives in Coral Amendment 7 include all 47 sites (Appendix 2, Figure 1), identified by the Council’s coral scientists. The U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the council to “objectively evaluate all reasonable
alternatives” that meet the stated purpose and need of an action. NEPA regulations further stipulate that the council, “must objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives, and foralternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated.” We recommend that the Council include the broadest range of important sites in the draft environmental impact statement, and develop criteria to prioritize sites for various levels of protections based on their ecological importance and the amount and type of fishing activities occurring in or near each site.
Tiered Approach
While some bottom-gear fishing (i.e.,. trawling, longlining) occurs near or within most of the 47 identified coral areas, only a few areas seem to have relatively high fishing pressure (Appendix 3, Tables 5; Appendix 2, Figure 1). The Council could customize fishing regulations according to bottom-contact gear types and their known or potential impacts to coral habitat. One suggested approach is to identify separate boundaries within which specific activities, such as bottom trawling and anchoring, are not allowed. For instance, the council could require a larger buffer around a coral area to prohibit bottom trawling and its potential impacts to corals both from direct damage and sediment resuspension. In determining an adequate buffer for various fishing activities, the Council could also consider sediment type and information on resuspension.
However, that science is somewhat limited, particularly in addressing adequate buffers to prevent coral suffocation. Thus, we recommend the Council take a conservative approach in order to pro-actively prevent potential damage. Without Fishing Regulations, Corals Have No True Protections HAPC status without fishing regulations offers no additional protections from potentially damaging practices, including fishing and oil and gas activities. The primary benefit of HAPCs without fishing regulations is to steer additional research to these areas. In fact, adopting HAPCs without regulations could induce additional fishing pressure by identifying the coral areas as fish habitat. Without fishing regulations, drawing boxes around deep-coral sites only makes them
more vulnerable to future fishing, especially as technology and gear improves. Overlap with the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Proposed Expansion
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is proposing an expansion that includes most of the current HAPCs with no regulations in the northern Gulf, (all but Jakulla Bank and 29 Fathom) but with somewhat different boundaries (Appendix 2, Figure 3). It remains unclear, however, whether any of these areas will ultimately be included, or if the sanctuary expansion will move forward. The Coral SSC recommended that the Council designate these sites as HAPCs if they are not part of the sanctuary expansion. We recommend that these sites be included as a specific action or alternative(s) in the Options Paper for Amendment 7, with the understanding that the Council could move the action to considered, but rejected later or not select it as preferred, at the appropriate time.
NOAA’s Focus on Coral Protections
The MSA, as amended in 2007, includes a provision directing the Secretary of Commerce to identify and conduct research and monitoring activities on deep-sea corals in consultation with federal fishery management councils and other federal agencies. As part of its five-year Research Plan for 2005-2009, NOAA identified the need for an agency-wide research plan for deep-sea corals. This, in part, has induced new research on deep-sea environments and the impact of human activities, in turn spurring interest and support for protecting deep-sea coral
habitat across the U.S. In 2010, NOAA published a Deep-Sea Coral Strategic Plan, of which the primary goal is to improve the understanding, conservation, and management of deep-sea coral
and sponge ecosystems. NOAA’s most recent Report to Congress required by the MSA summarizes recent deep-sea coral research across the country, but also indicates that scientific understanding of coral distribution and biology, and their roles in ecosystems and fisheries, is
still in its infancy. Using recent research and guidance from NOAA’s strategic plan, six of the eight U.S. fishery management councils have approved or are pursuing protections of deep-sea coral habitats. For
example, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved the “Frank R. Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area”, in 2015, which prohibits most bottom fishing in 38,000 square miles of federal waters off the Atlantic coast.80 Additionally, the South Atlantic Fishery
Management Council nearly doubled the size of its Oculina HAPC in 2014 to 632 square miles.81 Regulations allow rock-shrimp vessels, which are required to have VMS units, to transit through the HAPC with nets out of the water and gear properly stowed. In comparison, the total
area for all 47 areas identified in the Gulf of Mexico is about 1,200 square miles combined. One site, Pulley Ridge expansion area, accounts for about 22% of that area (257 square miles).
The average size of all 47 areas is 25 square miles, or 20 square miles excluding Pulley Ridge. Appendix 5 lists additional examples of coral protections enacted in the U.S. and around the globe.
Conclusion
Deep-sea corals form unique and important habitat for a diversity of marine life including economically important fish species, but they are extremely vulnerable to human-related disturbances due to their fragility and slow growth. The proposed HAPC designations with regulations to prevent bottom contact from select fishing gear and activities offers an opportunity to protect these corals and is an important step toward ecosystem-based fisheries management. We recommend additional protections for corals to limit the use of potentially damaging fishing
gear by considering HAPCs with fishing regulations for all 47 important coral sites originally selected by coral scientists. It is possible to protect all of those sites while allowing certain types of fishing to continue. At this early stage of the amendment development, all options should
remain on the table so specific issues can be worked out between stakeholders and the Council. We look forward to working with the Council and stakeholders to develop and approve an amendment that protects important coral habitat and preserves fishing.
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3/28/2017 12:38:07Derek Breauxderek@healthygulf.orgNew Orleans, LA, 70115NGOMarch 23, 2017

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
2203 N Lois Avenue
Suite 1100
Tampa, Florida 33607 USA

Re: Coral Amendment 7 Scoping Document

Dear Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council,

We strongly support the proposed idea of establishing 15 more HAPCs for corals, so long as these protection zones have fishing and boating regulations. Bottom trawls, dredges, bottom longlines, traps and pots, bottom-set nets, and fixed longlines are all directly damaging to corals, as well as anchors latching onto or getting dragged over corals; there needs to be regulations on these in order for protection zones to actually work.

The amendment also suggests creating 8 HAPCs for deep-sea corals that don’t need fishing regulations. Although we support the creation of the HAPCs, the lack of fishing regulations is problematic. Just because corals at far depths aren’t currently being affected by fishing gear doesn’t mean that it’s not a possibility in the future. Deep-sea corals in particular are some of the oldest and slowest growing organisms in the ocean. If damage, they will take hundreds of years to regenerate (if they regenerate at all). Thus, we should be proactive in protecting them against any possible human-induced damage.

Bottom trawls are particularly damaging corals both directly (by physical contact) and indirectly (by drowning them in sediments); the most significant destruction occurs during the initial sweep over the corals. The simplest way to save an abundance of these corals is to create more HAPCs (as suggested in the amendment) and tighten regulations for bottom trawling in these areas. Additionally, instead of completely outlawing bottom trawls, gear modifications could be implemented to minimize coral damage, such as raising the sweeps off the seafloor using disk clusters.^1

We also agree with the proposal to redefine existing HAPCs using new research technologies and information that was not available when these areas were initially designated in 2005. This will allow the Gulf Council to evaluate how effective the current regulations have been in protecting corals, and if the boundaries of the HAPCs need to be broadened or if they can be made smaller.

Lastly, we agree with the final proposal to reintroduce octocorals to the coral and coral reefs fishery management plan. These corals provide structure and habitat at depths that many other species can’t grow in, making them an important species for deep-sea coral conservation.


Respectfully submitted,

Derek Breaux
Fisheries Associate

Grace Newcomb
Intern to Fisheries Associate


1 Ryer, Clifford H. and Rose, Craig S. and Iseri, Paul J. (2010) Flatfish herding behavior in response to trawl sweeps: a comparison of diel responses to conventional sweeps and elevated sweeps. Fishery Bulletin, 108 (2), pp. 145-154.
21
6/2/17Alison Johnsonajohnson@oceana.orgOceanaNGODear Chairwoman Bosarge:
Oceana is writing today to provide written comment on Draft Options for Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico (”Draft Options”). We are enthusiastic about the development of this amendment to identify and conserve corals, especially deep sea corals, in the Gulf of Mexico (“GoM”).
Oceana applauds Action 1 in the Draft Options paper which would incorporate deep-water octocoral species into the fishery management unit of the Fishery Management Plan for Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic (“FMU”).1 Although this is a step in the right direction, we feel that a comprehensive list of all deep sea coral species potentially present in the region must be added to the FMU including all stony and black corals. Further, we commend Action 2 in the Draft Options paper which would establish management benchmarks for octocoral species. Overfishing limits (“OFL”), Annual Catch Limits (“ACL”), Annual Catch Targets (“ACT”) and overfished thresholds must be developed for every FMU. Although the above Actions are a positive stride toward deep sea coral protection, we believe that the Draft Options paper is premature and incomplete. We previously provided oral and written comments on the Scoping Document for Amendment 9 (formerly, Amendment 7).2 Scoping is a critically important part of the environmental review process under the National
Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).3 Oceana’s detailed and thoughtful comments which were directly relevant to the subject of the deep sea coral amendment, have been largely dismissed.In order to comply with NEPA requirements for scoping as well as NOAA policy for conservation and management of deep sea corals under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (“Gulf Council”) must significantly amend and improve Amendment 9. Oceana urges the Gulf Council to incorporate the following recommendations: Amendment 9 should include a mechanism and range of alternatives to conserve deep sea coral under the discretionary deep sea coral authority of Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 303(b)(2) including alternatives that are guided by NOAA’s 2010Strategic Plan for Deep- Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems and 2014 Agency Guidance on Deep-Sea Corals.4  Amendment 9 should include a pathway for areas to be considered and managed if and when new science becomes available.
Although the Actions described in the Draft Options paper are a positive step to protecting deep sea coral in the GoM region, Oceana recommends that the Gulf Council include more clarification and additional management authorities to protect deep sea coral in this region. Please see Oceana’s written comments on the Gulf Council website.5 Oceana looks forward to working with and providing additional input to the Gulf Council as Coral Amendment 9 moves forward. Oceana appreciates the chance to provide written comment on this very important issue.
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9/28/2017 14:15:04Alison Johnsonajohnson@oceana.orgNGODear Chairwoman Bosarge,
Oceana is writing today to provide written comment on the Public Hearing Draft for Amendment
9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico (“Public
Hearing Draft”). We are committed to the development of this amendment to identify and
conserve corals, especially deep-sea corals, in the Gulf of Mexico (“GoM”).
Oceana applauds the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (“Gulf Council”) for their
forward thinking in the plan to protect deep-sea coral (“DSC”) in the GoM. Although this is a
step in the right direction, the Public Hearing Draft continues to be incomplete and does not
provide the Council with the full range of management tools that are available to conserve DSC
in the region.
Oceana previously provided oral and written comments on the Scoping Document for
Amendment 9 (formerly Amendment 7) in March 20171 and on the Draft Options paper in June
2017.2 In each of these comments, Oceana highlights weaknesses in the amendment document.
Yet despite these detailed and thoughtful comments that were directly relevant to the subject of
the DSC conservation in the region, Oceana’s comments have been largely ignored.In order to comply with NEPA requirements to respond to issues raised during scoping, as well
as the NOAA policy for conservation and management of deep-sea corals under the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act (“MSA”), the Gulf Council must
significantly amend and improve the range of alternatives in Amendment 9, and the analysis that
supports the amendment, to include both essential fish habitat (“EFH”)-based management and
discretionary action. These options provide different pathways for the Council with different
biological outcomes. They should both be fully developed and considered in the Council’s final
action. Failing to fully consider both pathways will shortchange the Council and weaken the final
outcome of the amendment.
Specific to the range of alternatives in the current amendment, Oceana urges the Gulf Council to
incorporate the following recommendations:
 Amendment 9 should not combine both deep and shallow octocorals into a single stockcomplex.
 Amendment 9 should not include Annual Catch Limits (“ACLs”) for DSC. They should
be managed under the discretionary authority of the MSA.
 In the event that ACLs are set for shallow-water octocorals, Amendment 9 must have
clear Accountability Measures (“AMs”) to prevent overages and a method of payback
should they occur.
Single Stock Complex
Combining both deep and shallow-water corals into a single stock-complex is arbitrary and
problematic. DSC and shallow water coral have completely distinct life cycles, habitats and
stressors and should not be managed as one. This is supported by the most recent guidance on
National Standard One that advised “(w)here practicable, the group of stocks should have a
similar geographic distribution, life history characteristics, and vulnerabilities to fishing
pressure such that the impact of management actions on the stocks is similar.3” This is
clearly not the case for all octocorals in the Gulf of Mexico region. The Council should
carefully consider this and other NS1 guidance related to stock complexes if it chooses to
establish coral stock complexes.
Oceana feels that stock complexes are not appropriate for coral management. All coral should be
managed by species to provide the necessary conservation and management of each species. At
the very least, corals should only be grouped into two stock-complexes (deep and shallow) to
recognize their distributions, life histories and vulnerabilities.Oceana has serious concerns that any data gathered on shallow-water species is not equivalent
and should not be used to set any management metrics for DSC, including ACLs. Misapplying
information across a wide group of species without justification is unacceptable and fails to
satisfy the clear requirement under National Standard 2 that this action be supported by the Best
Scientific Information Available.
Annual Catch Limits
In some fisheries, prohibiting fishing for a particular species has been the functional equivalent
of setting the ACL to zero,4 but this could ultimately open DSC to fishing opportunities in the
future, which is not the intention of Coral Amendment 9. In addition, it is arbitrary to set an ACL
without specific and detailed data on DSC. As outlined above, using information on shallowwater
species will skew the ACL and could lead to overfishing.
Instead, Amendment 9 should include a mechanism and range of alternatives to conserve deepsea
coral under the discretionary deep-sea coral authority of Magnuson-Stevens Act Section
303(b)(2), including alternatives that are guided by NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea
Coral and Sponge Ecosystems and 2014 Agency Guidance on Deep-Sea Corals.5
Accountability Measures
The MSA and the agency guidance on the use of ACLs has been very clear about the relationship
between Annual Catch Limits and AMs: “AMs are management controls to prevent ACLs,
including sector‐ACLs, from being exceeded, and to correct or mitigate overages of the ACL
if they occur.”6 AMs are not discretionary and are required provisions of the Act.7 However,
despite this clear requirement for AMs and agency guidance on proactive and reactive AMs,
there are no alternatives for AMs in the draft nor is there any description of how the AMs will be
administered.
Oceana continues to oppose setting ACLs for deep-sea corals in the amendment and supports
precautionary discretionary management of corals in the region. If the Council does decide to set
ACLs for these species, they must be accompanied by a range of AM alternatives to prevent
overages, and if exceeded, a clear mechanism and timeline for payback.
Oceana is encouraged and feels the Gulf Council has made some positive steps toward
protecting DSC in the GoM region. But the Public Hearing Draft is still lacking and misses anopportunity for the Gulf Council to conserve and manage corals in the region. Oceana
recommends that the Gulf Council include more clarification and additional management
authorities to protect deep-sea coral in this region.
In summary, Oceana urges the Gulf Council to incorporate the following recommendations into
Amendment 9:
 Amendment 9 should not combine both deep and shallow octocorals into a single stockcomplex.
 Amendment 9 should not include ACLs for DSC, they should be managed under the
discretionary authority of the MSA.
 In the event that ACLs are set for shallow-water octocorals, Amendment 9 must have
clear AMs to prevent overages and a method of payback should they occur.
Oceana looks forward to working with and providing additional input to the Gulf Council as
Coral Amendment 9 moves forward. We appreciate the chance to provide written comment on
this very important issue.
Sincerely,
Alison Johnson
Southeast Campaign Manager
Oceana, Inc.
23
10/4/2017 14:14:06dylan hubbard
dhubbard@hubbardsmarina.com
Madiera Beach, FLCharter/Headboat For-HireMy family business has been fishing central west coast of Florida for nearly 90 years and four generations. Today we operate 6 federally permitted vessels including two 65+ passenger head boats and four federally permitted charter vessels. On top of these permits, I am also here today to represent the Florida Guides association as their Offshore Director. Finally, I am a CCA life member as well. Coral Amendment 9
We do not want to see any new HPACs established in the gulf especially adding new ones with fishing gear restrictions
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11/4/2017 11:59:10Paul Margolispaulmargolis@gmail.comWashington, DC 20016OtherIt is the responsibility of political, governmental, corporate and local leaders to protect the marine environment for future generations, the benefit of mankind and because it is the right thing to do to protect wildlife and global biodiversity.
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11/5/2017 17:57:33Karen Jacques
threegables1819@gmail.com
Sacramento CA 95811OtherI am opposed to any use of fishing gear such as trawls that could damage deep sea choral. I want a ban on such gear to be extended to as large as possible an area. (In a just, reasonable world such gear would be banned everywhere. We have only one planet and only so many choral reefs and we can't continue destroying them and still have a livable world.) Please act to protect these precious choral reefs.
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11/5/2017 18:39:56Diane Bosticbobcwlly@aol.com
Virginia Beach,VA 23451
Private Recreational AnglerCorals take so long to recover, if ever, the damage needs to be prevented.
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11/7/2017 13:22:45marilyn evensonlowrider3111@yahoo.comvermilion, OH 44089OtherAs a private citizen I am concerned about the environment & its increasing problems. The Gulf of Mexico deep sea corals are beautiful, necessary, & fragile. Some fishing & energy development practices can be very damaging with the corals taking years to recover. The corals have thrived for centuries but man's interference & global warming are quickly endangering them. But you can help protect them from fishing damage. Please take action to save the corals. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. We only have one chance. Thank you.
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11/16/2017 15:57:13kai kohlerkaikohler@yahoo.comDenver nc 28027OtherAve the ocean and the coral. Do what's right!!!
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11/16/2017 19:47:40Warner Fosterjwkillntime@gmail.comPanama City, Fl. 32405Private Recreational AnglerAsk that the Council not pass this amendment.
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11/18/2017 8:15:27Phyllis Miller
jeanmiller.miller37@gmail.com
2115OtherI am concerned about the damage to corals that is happening every day. The sea sustains living things, including humans, but only if we take care to protect all creatures. If we destroy the corals the chain of life will be broken and we will, in effect, be destroying ourselves.
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11/18/2017 12:59:34Amie L McNeelamiemcneel@mac.com98125Now Is the time to protect these ecosystems. Everything and anything we can do collectively to ensure the survival of these environments is of the upmost importance. Please persuade and protect the future survival and maintenance and vitality of our oceans.
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11/20/2017 16:07:31Laurel Cohenllamalaurel@gmail.comOtherIt's worth it to protect these ancient, beautiful organisms from deep-sea fishing, especially because the technology is available for fisherpeople to make a living without using these techniques. If a better solution exists--that honors currently living people, the environment, and future generations--why not do that?
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1/17/18Greg Southworth, Eric Milito, Randall Luthi
greg@southworthconsulting.com
Offshore Operators Committee, American Petroleum Institute, National Ocean Industries Assoc.Kenner, LA 70062January 17, 2018
Submitted via www.regulations.gov
Ms. Lauren Waters
National Marine Fisheries Service
Southeast Regional Office
263 13th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
RE: Notice of Intent to Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement
Deep Sea Coral Amendment 9
Docket Number: NOAA-NMFS-2017-0146
The American Petroleum Institute (API), the Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) and the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), hereinafter referred to as the Joint Trades, appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the notice of intent (NOI) to prepare a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) to describe and analyze management alternatives to be included in Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Coral and Coral Reef Resources of the Gulf of Mexico: Coral Habitat Areas Considered for Management in the Gulf of Mexico (Federal Register, Volume 82, No. 241, December 18, 2017). It is our understanding that this DEIS is being considered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Southeast Regional Office in collaboration with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council), and it will evaluate the establishment of 22 new habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC).
The Joints Trades understand the Gulf Council’s mission is to manage fishery resources in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) with the aim to achieve the greatest overall benefit to the nation by sustaining and maintaining responsible fisheries management. However, the GOM is not only a vital environmental resource for the nation, but a critical economic engine as well. Therefore, it is critically-important that direct and indirect impacts to all GOM stakeholders from Gulf Council decisions are understood and considered. It is from this perspective that we offer the comments contained herein.
The Joint Trades
API is a national trade association representing more than 625 member companies involved in all aspects of the oil and natural gas industry. API’s members include producers, refiners, suppliers, pipeline operators, marine transporters, and service and supply companies that support all segments of the industry. API and its members are dedicated to meeting environmental requirements, while economically and safely developing and supplying energy resources for consumers. API is a longstanding supporter of offshore exploration and development and the process laid out in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) as a means of balancing and rationalizing responsible oil and gas activities and the associated energy security and economic benefits with the protection of the environment.
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The OOC is an offshore oil and natural gas trade association that serves as a technical advocate for companies operating in the GOM. Founded in 1948, the OOC has evolved into the principal technical representative regarding regulation of offshore oil and natural gas exploration, development, and producing operations. The OOC’s member companies are responsible for approximately 90% of the oil and natural gas production from the GOM.
NOIA is the only national trade association representing all segments of the offshore industry with an interest in the exploration and production of both traditional and renewable energy resources on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”). The NOIA membership comprises more than 325 companies engaged in a variety of business activities, including production, drilling, engineering, marine and air transport, offshore construction, equipment manufacture and supply, telecommunications, finance and insurance, and renewable energy.
Joints Trades Comments and Recommendations
The following comments and recommendations are provided as recommendations for the DEIS, and are offered without prejudice to any of our members who may have differing or opposing views.
1. The DEIS must explicitly describe how each area meets the criteria for identification as a HAPC
As defined in 50 CFR 600.815(a)(8), identification of HAPC must be based upon one or more of the following criteria:
• The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat.
• The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation.
• Whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type.
• The rarity of the habitat type.
Although 50 CFR 600.815(a)(8) does not require all four criteria to be met, it is important for the DEIS to quantitively assess all four criteria with the best available information. Evaluation of all four criteria is important for articulating the importance of HAPC in a consistent, scientifically-sound framework. At a minimum, the DEIS should clearly articulate which of the four criteria the proposed HAPC meets and why, and should draw upon resources such as empirical data, ecological theory, peer-reviewed literature, and other recognized resources.
When evaluating the HAPC criteria, the DEIS must maintain an objective, comprehensive, science-based posture. Descriptions of the abundance of coral in particular areas should be quantitative rather than using subjective terms such as “dense mounds” or “many mounds and depressions.” How these areas differ from other areas of the GOM would be helpful toward understanding the significance of these habitats as discrete units that need heightened conservation efforts. If data is not available as a basis for sound decisions, then the DEIS must identify the need for more data collection, describe the criticality of the data, and not draw premature conclusions based upon uninformed opinion.
The Joint Trades recommend that the DEIS explicitly address each of the four HAPC criteria for all areas under consideration as HAPC to provide a more robust justification for designating a new HAPC.
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2. Evaluation of the use of “deep sea coral zone” designations
An adequate analysis under the DEIS should include alternatives for potential HAPCs, and also the use of the Gulf Council’s discretionary authority to create “deep sea coral zones” under §303(b)(2)(B) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The “Supplementary Information” discussion included in the Federal Register notice of intent to develop the DEIS, appears to indicate that “no action,” or identification of HAPC are the only alternatives that will be evaluated. Specifically, it states,
“NMFS, in collaboration with the Council, will develop a DEIS to describe and analyze alternatives to address the management needs described above including the ‘‘no action’’ alternative. The Amendment 9 DEIS will describe and analyze the modification of fishing regulations within the existing Pulley Ridge HAPC boundary, the establishment of 22 new HAPCs, and the exclusion of dredge fishing in all HAPCs that are managed with fishing regulations.”
However, the MSA §303(b)(2)(B) gives Fishery Management Councils discretionary authority to protect deep-sea corals from fishing as “deep sea coral zones,” an action that would stand by itself, that includes protecting deep-sea corals from physical damage from fishing gear and establishing measures to limit damage to fishing gear from interactions with deep-sea corals. Based on the Federal Register notice, it does not appear there will be an evaluation of all potential alternatives because the use of the HAPC designation and “no action” appear to be the only possible alternatives under consideration. A sound decision or recommendation cannot be made if all reasonable alternatives are not considered in the analysis, and the analysis of all alternatives is based on quantitative scientific data.
The Joint Trades recommend that “deep sea coral zone” designations also be considered as alternatives in the DEIS as discrete areas that are vulnerable to fishery interactions from bottom-tending fishing gear. In addition, the DEIS should describe how the Gulf Council decided that the proposed areas are deserving of HAPC designations rather than deep sea coral zones. This type of approach would be similar to a recent Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council amendment considered both “discrete” and “broad” zone alternatives, which specifically focused on distinct types of gear restrictions.
3. The DEIS, or supplemental/companion documents, must include comprehensive cost-benefit analysis
The GOM is an environmentally important resource, but it is also a significant economic resource to the nation. Therefore, it is critically important that the DEIS also address the economic impacts of each proposed alternative to all commercial interests that rely on the resources of the GOM. Under Executive Order 12866, NMFS must conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of any proposed action. Specifically, Executive Order 12866 states,
“In deciding whether and how to regulate, agencies should assess all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives, including the alternative of not regulating. Costs and benefits shall be understood to include both quantifiable measures (to the fullest extent that these can be usefully estimated) and qualitative measures of costs and benefits that are difficult to quantify, but nevertheless essential to consider.”
Similar to environmental and ecological data considered in the DEIS, cost-benefit evaluations should be comprehensive, and encompass not only costs incurred by the government to
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administer proposed HAPCs, but cost-benefits to the regulated industries utilizing the GOM (fishing, oil and gas, marine transportation, renewable energy, the military, etc.) and the general public.
The Joint Trades recommend that comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for all potentially-impacted industry be included for each alternative considered in the DEIS.
4. Impacts on, and integration with, other GOM regulatory programs and uses
The proposal to designate additional HAPC in the GOM raises questions of how the proposed alternatives will integrate with designations managed by other federal agencies and line offices within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For example, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is currently considering alternatives for expanding the boundaries of the Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). In addition, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has requirements for the avoidance and protection of biologically sensitive underwater features and areas in water depths < 300m (NTL 2009-G39 and BOEM biologically sensitive areas) and deep water benthic communities in water depths > 300m (NTL 2009-G40) that are mandated as part of the process for oil and natural gas exploration, development, and transportation activities. This includes any bottom disturbing activities such as pipe laying, anchor placement, and platform installation. In fact, BOEM first began to study deep water coral and chemosynthetic communities in the 1980s, as energy companies developed the technology to explore and extract oil and gas in the deep water regions of the GOM.
NMFS and the Gulf Council should consider and fully describe how the DEIS alternatives integrate and/or overlap with existing regulations of other federal agencies and the current proposal by NOAA to expand the FGBNMS. Failure to do so will create unnecessary confusion with additional, and potentially conflicting, regulatory requirements that are not well understood, nor easily implemented. A similar situation occurred when NOAA proposed the DEIS for the FGBNMS expansion. NOAA did not adequately consider input from all interested stakeholders which resulted in significant revisions and re-evaluation of the proposed expansion; work that is still ongoing and unresolved.
In addition to regulatory programs, the GOM, as stated earlier, is not only a vital environmental resource for the nation, but a nationally significant economic engine as well. Therefore, it is critically important that each alternative in the DEIS consider impacts to all GOM stakeholders. It is not appropriate to evaluate impacts on any one particular stakeholder while omitting potential impacts to others. All stakeholders must have a voice in decisions that have the potential to impact their livelihoods.
To assist in illustrating the potential impacts to other GOM stakeholders, we have included a map (Appendix 1) that displays how the proposed HAPCs intersect with existing oil and gas infrastructure, as well as oil and gas leases that have yet to be developed. It is easy to identify from the map in Appendix 1 that the offshore energy industry is an important stakeholder in any future decision on new HAPCs. But potential impacts are not limited to oil and natural gas companies, the agencies that regulate energy development (e.g. BOEM, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and the U.S. Coast Guard) are important stakeholders that require interagency consultation. In addition, other users of the GOM must be given the opportunity for input.
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The Joint Trades strongly recommend that NMFS and the Gulf Council significantly broaden the consultation process during the development of the DEIS, and specifically seek input from all GOM stakeholders.
5. Scope of DEIS should reflect a comprehensive strategy and objectives for GOM deep-water corals
The notice of intent to develop a DEIS to inform decisions on Coral Amendment 9 is an example of over-complexity and lack of transparency concerning regulatory decisions. The process of identifying, evaluating and designating deep-water coral HAPCs is confusing for those outside of NMFS and the Gulf Council. As discussed in Section 4, there are numerous stakeholders in addition to government agencies and fishermen, who have interests, or benefit from, the GOM. Those stakeholders need to understand the strategy and objectives for managing deep-water coral resources (and other ecological resources as well).
In addition, previous considerations and potential actions, such as Coral Amendment 7 in 2016, create the perception that a comprehensive, effective strategy for protecting and managing deep-water coral resources does not exist. It is imperative that NMFS and the Gulf Council clearly articulate what the short-term and long-term management strategy is for this important resource, and how that strategy compliments other proposed actions such as the FGBNMS expansion. Without a comprehensive, integrated strategy, identification of HAPCs, or other protections, results in a convoluted mixture of protected area designations that very few understand.
The Joint Trades recommend that NMFS and the Gulf Council use the DEIS as an opportunity to “take a step back” and consider a comprehensive plan for GOM deep-water coral. The plan should be developed with input from all GOM stakeholders, and be based on the best available scientific and economic information. To aid in improving dialogue on this important issue, the Joint Trades are requesting a meeting with NMFS and the Gulf Council to discuss our comments on the proposed DEIS, as well as express our interest in working with NMFS and the Gulf Council more collaboratively. Please contact Greg Southworth, OOC Associate Director, at greg@offshoreoperators.com to arrange such a meeting.
The Joint Trades are strong advocates for balancing resource protection and resource development needs and consideration of multiple and compatible uses in the GOM. We understand the Gulf Council’s mission to manage fishery resources in the federal waters of the GOM with the aim to achieve the greatest overall benefit to the nation by sustaining and maintaining responsible fisheries management. However, we believe that environmental protection, safety at sea, and economic development can coexist and thrive. The GOM is proof that effective management of a national environmental resource and a significant economic and energy engine can be achieved. To maintain an effective balance of all interested parties, including the public, all potential interests must be considered in proposals. Thank you for this opportunity to provide constructive comments.
Sincerely,
Erik Milito
Group Director, Upstream & Industry Operations
American Petroleum Institute
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Greg Southworth
Associate Director
Offshore Operators Committee
Randall Luthi
President
National Ocean Industries Association
cc: Stuart Levenbach, Chief of Staff, NOAA
Kevin Wheeler, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, NOAA
Taylor Jordan, Special Advisor, NOAA
Brandon Elsner, Policy Advisor, NOAA
Dr. Morgan Kilgour, Fishery Biologist, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
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3/27/2018 14:43:19Nylen Lee Allphin
lee@employeradvantage.com
64801Private Recreational Angler, OtherPlease designate valuable deep-sea coral sites as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern

Dear Chairman Bosarge and Gulf Council members:

As a concerned scientist, I am writing to ask the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to approve Coral Amendment 9.

Healthy fisheries and oceans drive the success of Gulf coastal economies, and coral communities provide important habitat for fish and invertebrates to reproduce, feed, and find shelter.

Some species of corals in the Gulf are thousands of years old. Others build reefs rising 50 feet from the ocean floor. They all grow extremely slowly and can take decades to recover from damage, if they recover at all. Researchers are only beginning to discover the potential of deep-sea dwellers in fighting cancer and other medical uses.

Coral Amendment 9 would still allow historic levels of fishing for valuable commercial species while protecting these deep-sea coral communities by designating them as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern and, in some cases, including restrictions on certain types of fishing gear. However, I am concerned that the amendment does not offer those protections for all 23 sites.

Please approve this amendment and include regulations on fishing gear that interacts with the ocean floor and could damage fragile corals at all 23 sites. It is far better to protect sites now, particularly in deeper waters where little to no fishing is occurring, rather than waiting for evidence of destruction to act.

Thank you for your work to promote sustainable Gulf of Mexico fisheries while ensuring conservation of our ocean resources.

Sincerely,

N. Lee Allphin, Ph. D
27644 Nylen Lane
Stark City, Missouri 64866

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3/28/2018 13:06:48Ericka Bergericka98115@gmail.comseattleOther
Dear Chairman Bosarge and Gulf Council members:

I am writing to ask the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to approve Coral Amendment 9 to designate valuable deep-sea coral sites as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.

Healthy fisheries and oceans drive the success of Gulf coastal economies, and coral communities provide important habitat for fish and invertebrates to reproduce, feed, and find shelter.

Some species of corals in the Gulf are thousands of years old. Others build reefs rising 50 feet from the ocean floor. They all grow extremely slowly and can take decades to recover from damage, if they recover at all. Researchers are only beginning to discover the potential of deep-sea dwellers in fighting cancer and other medical uses.

Coral Amendment 9 would still allow historic levels of fishing for valuable commercial species while protecting these deep-sea coral communities by designating them as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern and, in some cases, including restrictions on certain types of fishing gear. However, I am concerned that the amendment does not offer those protections for all 23 sites.

Please approve this amendment and include regulations on fishing gear that interacts with the ocean floor and could damage fragile corals at all 23 sites. It is far better to protect sites now, particularly in deeper waters where little to no fishing is occurring, rather than waiting for evidence of destruction to act.

Thank you for your work to promote sustainable Gulf of Mexico fisheries while ensuring conservation of our ocean resources.

Sincerely,

Ericka Berg
Seattle, WA
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4/6/2018 0:20:32Christopher Lishlishchris@yahoo.comSan Rafael, CAOtherThursday, April 5, 2018

Subject: Please designate valuable deep-sea coral sites as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern -- Deep Sea Coral Amendment 9

Dear Chairman Bosarge and Gulf Council members:

I am writing to ask the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to approve Coral Amendment 9.

"Our duty to the whole, including to the unborn generations, bids us to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose and method."
-- Theodore Roosevelt

Healthy fisheries and oceans drive the success of Gulf coastal economies, and coral communities provide important habitat for fish and invertebrates to reproduce, feed, and find shelter.

"Then I say the Earth belongs to each generation during its course, fully and in its own right, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence."
-- Thomas Jefferson

Some species of corals in the Gulf are thousands of years old. Others build reefs rising 50 feet from the ocean floor. They all grow extremely slowly and can take decades to recover from damage, if they recover at all. Researchers are only beginning to discover the potential of deep-sea dwellers in fighting cancer and other medical uses.

"As we peer into society’s future, we--you and I, and our government--must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Coral Amendment 9 would still allow historic levels of fishing for valuable commercial species while protecting these deep-sea coral communities by designating them as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern and, in some cases, including restrictions on certain types of fishing gear. However, I am concerned that the amendment does not offer those protections for all 23 sites.

"Every man who appreciates the majesty and beauty of the wilderness and of wild life, should strike hands with the farsighted men who wish to preserve our material resources, in the effort to keep our forests and our game beasts, game-birds, and game-fish--indeed, all the living creatures of prairie and woodland and seashore--from wanton destruction. Above all, we should realize that the effort toward this end is essentially a democratic movement."
-- Theodore Roosevelt

Please approve this amendment and include regulations on fishing gear that interacts with the ocean floor and could damage fragile corals at all 23 sites. It is far better to protect sites now, particularly in deeper waters where little to no fishing is occurring, rather than waiting for evidence of destruction to act.

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
-- Aldo Leopold

Thank you for your work to promote sustainable Gulf of Mexico fisheries while ensuring conservation of our ocean resources. And thank you for your consideration of my comments. Please do NOT add my name to your mailing list. I will learn about future developments on this issue from other sources.

Sincerely,
Christopher Lish
San Rafael, CA
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4/6/2018 8:26:18Chad Hansonchanson@pewtrusts.orgOtherOn behalf of The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew), please accept these comments regarding several issues coming before the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) at the April meeting. We support the changes to Coral Amendment 9 per the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommendations. Additionally, we recommend modifications to the proposed discard policy regarding descending devices and venting tools, and development of guidance for associated scientific research. Lastly, we support the recent SSC recommendation to develop robust and objective criteria to determine which species should be included in fishery management plans, and that the Council undertakes a review of these criteria and the species under federal management in this region every five years.
Deep-sea coral communities provide complex and diverse habitat for a variety of marine life, including economically important groupers and snappers, shrimp, crab, lobsters and many others. Coral ecosystems offer nursery grounds, protection from predators, and contribute to
reproduction and feeding for a number of species, including those targeted by commercial fisheries. In the ocean depths, corals often grow very slowly, typically much less than one inch per year depending on species and location. Individual coral can sometimes be hundreds to thousands of years old. Mounds of corals, which may include dead and live corals, can date to tens of thousands to millions of years old. Scientists documented black corals over 2,000 years old in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet once damaged, corals may take centuries or longer to recover. Fishing lines and weights, anchors, traps, and trawls may break corals or stir up sediment that can smother them. Exploration of deep-sea corals on the Gulf of Mexico’s once-unreachable seafloor is relatively new. Unlike on the Atlantic coast, where there are large contiguous swaths of coral, those in the Gulf tend to be located in clusters, or hotspots, across the region. Deep-water corals in the Gulf and elsewhere may have a range of potential benefits, including biomedical uses, and scientists think they have uncovered only a fraction of those. Thus, Coral Amendment 9 is an important step toward protecting these rare but exceedingly ecologically valuable coral communities by designating high-priority sites and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs) and implementing regulations that limit the use of gear, such as bottom-longlines, trawls, and anchors, which can damage them.

For Coral Amendment 9, Pew supports revisions in line with the recommendations made by the Coral SSC at their January 2018 meeting, several of which are win-win propositions that offer added protections for corals while minimizing impacts to fishermen by preserving access to some historical fishing grounds. Specifically, we support:

• In Action 2, adding a new alternative that considers combining the areas subject to Alternatives 2-4 as a single HAPC with modified east and west boundaries. This alternative would make more ocean bottom available to fishermen on the upper continental slope while offering more direct protections for corals along the steep reef tract. (see Figure 1)

• For Preferred Alternative 7 in Action 3, clarifying that shrimp trawlers targeting royal red shrimp are allowed to traverse through the Viosca Knolls (VK) 862/906 site with their trawl gear off the bottom.

• In Action 5, selecting Option b in Alternatives 2 (Harte Bank) and 3 (Southern Bank) as the Preferred Alternatives. This establishes the same regulations as in the other proposed HAPCs. The size of Southern Bank has already been reduced from prior proposals to accommodate historical fishing, and data provided indicate minimal fishing pressure on Harte Bank. Thus, impacts to the fishery would be minimal and future damage to these slow-growing corals could be avoided or minimized.

For Action 2, the SSC recommended adding a new alternative that essentially encompasses the corals within the three proposed HAPCs in Alternative 2-4 (Long Mound, Many Mounds, and North Reed). Available fishing effort data shows minimal, if any, bottom fishing occurring between these three proposed sites. However, information from a recent research cruise indicates corals likely occur along the steep and rocky slope edge between the proposed sites where little to no fishing occurs.3 Modifying the eastern and western boundaries as proposed by the SSC to follow the 400 and 600 meters contours, or about 1,300 feet to 2,000 feet, allows more of the upper slope to remain open to bottom tending gear while avoiding most corals. By our calculations, the size difference in the one contiguous HAPC proposed by the SSC compared with the three individual HAPCs (Alts 2-4) is only 5 additional square miles (46 mi2 v. 41 mi2, respectively). On the other hand, about 16 square miles would be removed from the eastern HAPC boundary where the highest potential for fishing occurs, particularly from bottom longliners.In Action 3, the SSC recommended modifying language for the Preferred Alternative 7 to clarify the intent of the exemption for trawling in that area. Specifically, trawling for royal red shrimp would be allowed up to the HAPC boundary for VK 862/906, but trawl gear would need to be off the bottom while the vessel traverses through the HAPC.

SSC motion:
Federal shrimp trawl permit holders with a royal red shrimp endorsement may transit through the HAPC while fishing for royal red shrimp, but with the trawl gear off the bottom.

Shrimpers have stated that they want to avoid dragging nets over sharp corals or rocky bottom. However, they often use this area (VK 862/906) to turn their vessels around. Spelling out the intent of the “exemption” is critical to both protect corals and prevent damaged gear. Additionally, should Coral Amendment 9 be approved, we encourage NOAA Fisheries to include educational materials and tools with shrimp permit renewals and royal red shrimp endorsements to help educate operators about the revised boundaries, new restrictions, and the intent of the provisions for VK 862/906 and HAPCs in order to maximize compliance.

For Action 5, we support the SSC recommendations to select Option b in Alternatives 2 (Harte Bank) and 3 (Southern Bank) as the Preferred Alternatives, which would establish the same regulations as are the preferred alternatives for the other proposed HAPCs in Coral Amendment
9. Harte Bank (Alt 2) is fairly deep (> 260 feet) and fishing data indicate relatively low effort of bottom longlining and shrimp trawling around Harte Bank. Southern Bank (Alt 3) is one of the most studied areas in the south Texas region, and it has a relatively small coral footprint. With input from the Shrimp AP, the boundaries for this site were significantly reduced from about 11 mi2 to just less than 1 mi2 to encompass just the area around the exposed rocky substrate where corals grow. Trawling would be minimally affected as shrimpers have indicated during advisory panel meetings that they already avoid this rocky bottom. Additionally, there is little evidence of bottom fishing for reef fish near or in Southern Bank.
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4/13/2018 9:53:55Alison Johnsonajohnson@oceana.orgNGORE: Oceana’s Written Comments on the Public Hearing Draft for Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Waters

Dear Chairwoman Bosarge,

Oceana is writing today to provide written comment on the Public Hearing Draft for Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico (“Public Hearing Draft”). Oceana is committed to the development of this Amendment to identify and conserve deep-sea corals (“DSC”), in the Gulf of Mexico (“GoM”) and thanks the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (“Gulf Council”) for their forward thinking in the plan to protect DSC in the GoM.

Although Amendment 9 is a step in the right direction, the Public Hearing Draft continues to be incomplete and does not provide the Gulf Council with the full range of management tools that are available to conserve DSC in the region. Oceana previously provided oral and written comments to the Gulf Council on the Scoping Document for Amendment 9 (formerly Amendment 7) in March 20171, the Draft Options paper in June 20172 and the Public Hearing Draft in September 20173. Further, we provided input via the Federal Rulemaking Portal on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement to describe and analyze management alternatives to be included in Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan (“FMP”) for the Coral and Coral Reef Resources of the Gulf of Mexico: Coral Habitat Areas Considered for Management in theGoM (“Coral Amendment 9”)4. In each of these comments, Oceana thoughtfully highlighted weaknesses in the Amendment document based on our organization’s experience conserving similar habitats in many other regions. However, despite these detailed and thoughtful comments that were directly relevant to the subject of DSC conservation in the region, Oceana’s comments have been largely ignored.

In order to strengthen the final results of Amendment 9, comply with NEPA requirements to respond to issues raised during scoping, as well as the NOAA policy for conservation and management of DSC under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act (“MSA”), Oceana strongly urges the Gulf Council to significantly amend and improve the range of alternatives in Amendment 9 to include both essential fish habitat (“EFH”)-based management and discretionary action. These options provide different pathways for the Council with different biological outcomes. Despite Oceana’s efforts to highlight these issues, these differences have not been discussed by the Council during the development of Amendment 9. Both management strategies must be fully developed and considered in the Council’s final action. Failing to fully consider both pathways will shortchange the Council and weaken the final outcome of the Amendment.

Specific to the range of alternatives in the current Public Hearing Draft, Oceana urges the Gulf Council to incorporate the following recommendations:

• Coral Amendment 9 should include a mechanism to protect deep-sea coral under the Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 303(b)(2) discretionary provision in the event protection as EFH is ineffective or inappropriate for deep-sea coral areas;

• Coral Amendment 9 should include an alternative that manages in keeping with the management approach described in NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan; and

• Coral Amendment 9 should include a pathway for areas to be considered and managed if and when new science becomes available.

Although the proposed management actions in the Public Hearing Draft are a positive step in protecting DSC in this region, the proposed areas in Amendment 9 miss a significant amount of potential DSC habitat in the GoM. Oceana recommends that the Gulf Council include a full range of alternatives that consider additional management authorities and strategies to protect DSC in the GoM.

BACKGROUND I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Fisheries Service and the Gulf Council began managing coral in the GoM jointly with the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council in 1982. Since then, over 100 species of coral have been added to the Coral FMP which is now managed separately by each Council. In 2013, a group of coral and fisheries scientists were brought together by the Gulf Council to discuss how coral may be affected by fishing activities. One of the recommendations from this workshop was to reevaluate coral areas in the GoM that might warrant special protection.5 Methods to protect coral and coral habitat from activities other than direct harvest include Section 303(b)(2)(B) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act or designating particular sites within existing coral EFH as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (“HAPC”).

In 2014, the Gulf Council convened a group of scientists who identified 47 areas, including HAPCs that are in need of protection. After reviewing this list, the Gulf Council consulted with user groups who would be affected by potential fishing regulation changes by convening their Shrimp, Reef Fish, Coral, and Spiny Lobster Advisory Panels. In August 2016, the Gulf Council’s Scientific Advisors on Coral (“Coral SSC”), the Coral and Shrimp Advisory Panel and a group of longline fishermen further narrowed down the initial 47 areas to 15 priority areas plus seven additional deep-water areas that do not require fishing regulations.6

In October 2016, the Gulf Council developed the Deep Sea Coral Amendment 7 Scoping Guide – A Guide to Proposed Coral Protections in the Gulf of Mexico and Scoping Document – Recommended Coral Areas Identified as Priority Habitats for Management Consideration in the Gulf of Mexico.7 Subsequently, in May 2017 the Gulf Council developed Draft Options for Coral Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of
Mexico8 and in September 2017, they solicited comments on the Public Hearing Draft for Coral
Amendment 9.9

II. LEGAL BACKGROUND

A. National Environmental Policy Act

NEPA requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impacts of major federal actions significantly affecting the health of the human environment.10 Federal agencies evaluate these significant impacts through an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”). Federal agencies must consider alternatives to their proposed actions as well as the environmental impacts of the proposed action and its alternatives.11 The Council on Environmental Quality considers the analysis of alternatives to be the “heart” of the EIS.12 An EIS must “rigorously explore” “all reasonable alternatives” and the decision maker must consider all such alternatives.13 Where there are potentially a large number of alternatives, the EIS must analyze and compare “a reasonable number of examples, covering the full spectrum of alternatives.”14

Scoping is “[a]n early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action.”15 The purpose of the scoping process is to determine the scope or range of impacts of the proposed action on the human environment. The scoping process determines some of the issues associated with the action and may be used to develop action alternatives as well.16

B. Magnuson-Stevens Act

In 1996, the Sustainable Fisheries Act was signed into law, amending the Magnuson-Stevens Act and mandating numerous science, management and conservation elements of FMPs with the fundamental goals of preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, protecting EFH, minimizing bycatch, enhancing research and improving monitoring.17 The 1996 Amendments require the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils (“Councils”) to describe and identify EFH for all fisheries and to minimize, to the extent practicable, the adverse effects of fishing on EFH.18 In addition, the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that federal agencies consult with the Fisheries Service on actions that may adversely affect EFH.19

1. Essential Fish Habitat

The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines EFH as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity.”20 Section 303 of the Act sets forth requirements for FMPs, including the requirement to “define and identify essential fish habitat for the fishery based on guidelines established by the [Fisheries Service] under section 305(b)(1)(A), minimize to the extent practicable adverse effects on such habitat caused by fishing, and identify other actions to encourage the conservation and enhancement of such habitat.”21 EFH must be identified and described in FMPs according to the guidelines set forth under 50 C.F.R. § 600.815. The guidelines include the requirement that “[a]mendments to the FMP or its implementing regulations must ensure that the FMP continues to minimize to the extent practicable adverse effects on EFH caused by fishing.”22 Under these mandatory requirements, DSC that function as EFH must be conserved and protected by the Councils in their FMPs.

2. Habitat Areas of Particular Concern

In 2002, the Fisheries Service provided additional guidance to the Councils on the EFH conservation requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This guidance included a new tool for managers, HAPC, and provided the following guidance to the Councils: “EFH that is especially important ecologically or particularly vulnerable to degradation as ‘habitat areas of particular concern’ (HAPC) to help provide additional focus for conservation efforts.”23

The 2002 guidance further established criteria for HAPC designation:

FMPs should identify specific types or areas of habitat within EFH as habitat areas of particular concern based on one or more of the following considerations:
(i) The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat. (ii) The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced
environmental degradation.
(iii) Whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type.
(iv) The rarity of the habitat type.24

But regardless of these factors, HAPCs function as a subset of EFH, which is specific to species managed by a FMP.

3. Discretionary Coral Provisions

Because managing DSC as EFH presented some Councils with problems, Congress amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2007 to give the Fisheries Service and Councils explicit authority to conserve and protect DSC, even where DSC have not been d esignated as EFH. For example, if a coral species does not have a nexus to a managed species, then it cannot be protected using the EFH designation. Section 303(b)(2) of the Act provides that any FMP prepared by a Council or the Fisheries Service may:

(B) designate such zones in areas where DSC are identified under section 408, to protect DSC from physical damage from fishing gear or to prevent loss or damage to such fishing gear from interactions with DSC, after considering long-term sustainable uses of fishery resources in such areas; and

(C) with respect to any closure of an area under this Act that prohibits all fishing, ensure that such closure—
(i) is based on the best scientific information available;
(ii) includes criteria to assess the conservation benefit of the closed area; (iii) establishes a timetable for review of the closed area’s performance that is consistent with the purposes of the closed area; and
(iv) is based on an assessment of the benefits and impacts of the closure, including its size, in relation to other management measures (either alone or in combination with such measures), including the benefits and impacts of limiting access to: users of the area, overall fishing activity, fishery science, and fishery and marine conservation.25
Put simply, the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act now enables the Councils to conserve DSC wherever they occur regardless of whether those areas are EFH for a managed species. This authority was first used by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in 2015 to create the Frank Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area.26

4. Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program

In 2007, Congress also added the Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program (“the Program”) at Section 408 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to establish a program to identify existing research, map coral locations and monitor activity in known DSC areas.27 In addition to biennial reporting to Congress,28 under the Program, the Fisheries Service c ollaborates on research about DSC with other federal agencies, international partners, and non-governmental and academic scientists.29 The 2007 and 2017 peer-reviewed reports on the state of DSC ecosystems of the United States not only provide critical information on the location and the incredible variety and biodiversity of the species in these important ecosystems but also inform management efforts.30 The Program and the research and reports are useful resources for the Councils and have been and should continue to be key resources for the New England, Mid- Atlantic and Gulf Councils as they consider management of DSC in their regions.

5. NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan

In 2010, NOAA published its Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems: Research, Management, and International Cooperation to provide guidance to the Councils in identifying and conserving DSC.31 This important document cites four Magnuson-Stevens Act authorities32 to protect DSC that should be explored by the Councils in developing management actions to conserve DSC:
Designate zones to protect DSC from physical damage from fishing gear (Magnuson- Stevens Act § 303(b)(2)) – Discretionary. The 2010 Strategic Plan provides clear and universal guidance to fisheries managers in the agency methodology to conserve both adequately surveyed areas and inadequately surveyed areas. NOAA uses a precautionary approach (discussed below in Figure 1) to manage bottom-tending gear (“BTG”), especially mobile BTG and other adverse impacts of fishing on DSC and sponge ecosystems.

• Minimize bycatch to the extent practicable (National Standard 9; Magnuson-Stevens Act § 301(a)(9)) – Mandatory. DSC are considered fish by the Magnuson-Stevens Act and are therefore subject to the requirement to minimize bycatch. Some Councils have historically used this important provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to support DSC management measures.

• Identify and describe EFH and minimize, to the extent practicable, adverse effects caused by fishing (Magnuson-Stevens Act § 305(b)) – Mandatory. Where appropriate and designated under the FMPs of a region, Councils can and should minimize the adverse effects of fishing gear on DSC and conserve DSC from adverse effects of
non-fishing activities on these EFH areas.

• Include management measures in FMPs to conserve target and non-target species and habitats (Magnuson-Stevens Act § 303(b)(12)) – Discretionary. This recognizes the role of fishing in the broader marine ecosystem and provides the Councils with the authority to manage fishing in this context.

Each of these authorities and requirements of the Act are important for the Council to consider when developing Coral Amendment 9 to conserve corals across the GoM region.


DISCUSSION

Oceana has commented previously that the Scoping Document, Draft Options paper and Public Hearing Draft for Amendment 9 are lacking information on both the background for the proposed action as well as the process to consider alternatives. Specifically, the course of action to use the EFH/HAPC pathway instead of exploring alternatives that use the precautionary DSC has been largely ignored without any rationale for the chosen pathway or the decision to not develop discretionary coral measures. Due to these deficiencies and Oceana’s efforts to raise these significant issues during scoping, the Gulf Council should take the opportunity at this time to expand the scope of Coral Amendment 9 and develop a full range of alternatives that utilize the full range of legal authorities available to protect DSC under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and agency guidance.

Collectively, the alternatives adopted in Coral Amendment 9 should achieve meaningful, effective conservation outcomes for DSC in the GoM. Specifically, Coral Amendment 9 should incorporate the following recommendations in the range of reasonable alternatives developed and considered in this important action:

I. CORAL AMENDMENT 9 SHOULD INCLUDE A MECHANISM TO PROTECT DEEP-SEA CORAL UNDER THE MAGNUSON-STEVENS ACT SECTION
303(B)(2) DISCRETIONARY PROVISION IN THE EVENT PROTECTION AS EFH IS INEFFECTIVE OR INAPPROPRIATE FOR DEEP-SEA CORAL AREAS.

Coral Amendment 9 should include a mechanism to protect DSC under the discretionary provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This would allow flexibility if protection as EFH is inadequate or inappropriate for DSC preservation. The below discussion will demonstrate the downfalls of EFH protection and put forth alternatives to better safeguard DSC.

Page 2 of the Gulf Council Public Hearing Draft states:

Under the definition of coral EFH, wherever coral exists (that are FMU-listed species) is considered coral EFH. Areas in which corals exist in sufficient numbers or diversity would be considered for establishment as an HAPC as long as it meets one of the HAPC requirements: significantly ecologically important, habitat that is sensitive to human-induced degradation, located in an environmentally stressed area, or considered rare. All corals are sensitive to human-induced habitat degradation by fishing and non-fishing activities.34 In October, the Gulf Council voted not to add deep-sea octocorals to the coral Fishery Management Unit. While this makes sense since the only known harvest of octocorals are those that exist shallower than 164 ft (27 fathoms) in Florida state waters, and the state of Florida was already managing that harvest, Oceana feels that a “loophole” still exists should octocorals be harvested in deeper waters or discovered in other areas in the future. Although the EFH pathway provides the Gulf Council with the ability to conserve corals with respect to both fishing and non-fishing activities, the Gulf Council should proceed cautiously with this approach because it contains a number of pitfalls that could ultimately limit their ability to effectively manage these areas.

First, this option is limited to the number of species that are managed under the Gulf Council’s coral FMP.35 This list contains a limited selection of the stony and black coral species but is not a comprehensive list of all DSC species potentially present in the region. This narrow range of species fails to capture the diversity of DSC known to be found in the GoM and therefore leaves these species vulnerable without species-specific conservation measures.

According to Cold-Water Corals - The Biology and Geology of Deep-Sea Coral Habitats, there are five cold water coral taxa that contribute significantly to cold-water coral habitats by providing reef frameworks or other structural habitat including Scleractinia (stony coral), Antipatharia (black coral), Zoanthidae (zooanthids), Octocorallia (soft coral) and Stylasteridae (fire coral).36 Within the stony coral taxa are four important framework building families including Pocilloporidae, Oculinidae, Caryophylliidae and Dendrophylliidae.37 There are also seven families of potential habitat-forming black coral including Antipathidae, Aphanipathidae, Cladopathidae, Stylopathidae, Myriopathidae, Schizopathidae and Leiopathidae.38

Furthermore, the FMP should be expanded to include all species of fire corals potentially present in the area as well as amended to add zooanthids and soft coral. Given the relative recency of DSC exploration, it is probable that new species will be discovered in the GoM. The FMP for DSC should be a dynamic list that can be easily revised.

The EFH pathway provides very little flexibility to manage the wide swath of deep waters in the GoM that is beyond the range of the listed species. If the Gulf Council proceed with an EFH- based approach, Oceana urges them to take clear action in Coral Amendment 9 to include the full range of known coral and sponge species, readily available on NOAA Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program Data Portal,39 as managed coral species under this Fishery
Management Plan. Additionally, Amendment 9 must clearly discuss the use of DSC as EFH by all species managed by the Gulf Council and include measures to conserve this EFH.
II. CORAL AMENDMENT 9 SHOULD INCLUDE AN ALTERNATIVE THAT MANAGES DEEP-SEA CORALS IN KEEPING WITH THE MANAGEMENT APPROACH DESCRIBED IN NOAA’S 2010 STRATEGIC PLAN.

Conservation of DSC using the EFH pathway has frustrated fisheries managers around the country, a fact that led to the inclusion of DSC management authority in the most recent reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. NOAA followed this with clear and useful guidance for fisheries managers to tackle this complex issue that historically has been outside of the scope of fisheries management. This strategy was used successfully by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in 2015 to create the Frank Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area, which balanced the fishery uses of deep-water areas with conservation of DSC.40

In January 2018, the New England Fishery Management Council used the above strategy to successfully ban bottom trawling in over 25,000 square-miles south of Georges Bank; an area that includes four seamounts and 20 deep-sea canyons41. Each of these examples are notable in the fact that they are almost entirely precautionary and little if any current fishing effort was displaced by these significant actions.

The Gulf Council should follow the examples set by the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils and include the range of reasonable alternatives which follow NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan in consultation with the staff of the NOAA Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program who assisted both Councils with these landmark management actions. Amendment 9 should adhere to the 2010 Strategic Plan and include management alternatives for the following areas:

A. Known Deep-Sea Coral Areas

Areas of known or suspected DSC occurrence where bottom-tending gear (“BTG”) is allowed should be closed from future fishing activity to conserve fragile corals. These documented areas are worthy of protection and this alternative will provide a proven means to afford that protection. Further, areas that are currently closed to BTG should be prioritized for enhanced monitoring, surveillance and enforcement. In addition, those areas with recent BTG activity should be strictly monitored for bycatch.

Oceana encourages the Gulf Council to support and analyze this alternative with an additional consideration of known DSC areas beyond the 2014/16 HAPC process and include a broader range of stakeholders with expertise in DSC in the GoM. This should include experts in at-sea
exploration as well as those with expertise in predictive modeling of DSC, a process that has been shown to be effective at predicting coral presence based on a range of factors including substrate, current, and bottom contour.42

Following the completion of this analysis, the Gulf Council should consider gear-specific management of the areas identified in this process as DSC management areas to minimize the effect of fishing gears on these areas.

B. Inadequately Surveyed Areas

The vast majority of the GoM and the U.S. EEZ is inadequately surveyed for the presence of DSC. In such cases, NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan encourages fishery managers to use the precautionary approach and to close these areas to future fishing activity by “freezing the footprint” until they have been adequately surveyed.

Oceana encourages the Gulf Council to accept and develop this alternative using a depth-based approach to determine the extent of recent fishing, delineate the unfished areas of the GoM and close all waters deeper than the current footprint of the fishery. This process should be based on a careful analysis of recent fishing activity in cooperation with the fishing industry and other stakeholders. As noted above, if done correctly, this approach should not influence current
fisheries and will simply limit the expansion of fisheries into deeper waters until those areas have been surveyed and determined to be free of DSC communities.

III. CORAL AMENDMENT 9 SHOULD INCLUDE A PATHWAY FOR AREAS TO BE CONSIDERED AND MANAGED IF AND WHEN NEW SCIENCE BECOMES AVAILABLE.

DSC research and management is a rapidly evolving field with new discoveries, tools, and approaches being developed every year. Many areas in the GoM have yet to be mapped and it is important that Coral Amendment 9 is dynamic and updated to include newly discovered areas and to remove areas previously thought to have DSC, yet later confirmed to be absent.

The Gulf Council should include alternatives in Coral Amendment 9 that allow this new information to be considered and included in future management actions. Specifically, Coral Amendment 9 should include an expedited management pathway for newly described and discovered DSC areas to be conserved in the regions’ FMPs. Similarly, a mechanism should be developed to remove areas if coral is confirmed not to be present where fishery management measures are not needed.

CONCLUSION

Coral Amendment 9 is a step in the right direction for protecting and managing DSC in this region. Coral Amendment 9 offers the Gulf Council the opportunity to take clear action to conserve important parts of the GoM marine ecosystem. Unfortunately, management actions addressed in the Public Hearing Draft fail to take full advantage of this opportunity and do not adequately address the issues that are unique to DSC conservation. Oceana urges the Gulf Council to align Coral Amendment 9 more closely to the comprehensive strategy outlined in NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan instead of the EFH/HAPC pathway suggested in the Scoping Document.

Regarding the proposed management actions to be addressed in the current Public Hearing Draft, Oceana urges the Gulf Council to incorporate the following recommendations:

• Coral Amendment 9 should include a mechanism to protect deep-sea coral under the Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 303(b)(2) discretionary provision in the event protection as EFH is ineffective or inappropriate for deep-sea coral areas;

• Coral Amendment 9 should include an alternative that manages in keeping with the management approach described in NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan; and

• Coral Amendment 9 should include a pathway for areas to be considered and managed if and when new science becomes available.

Oceana looks forward to working with and providing additional input to the Gulf Council as Coral Amendment 9 moves forward. We appreciate the chance to provide written comment on this very important issue.
39
4/20/2018 7:27:34Dylan Hubbard
dhubbard@hubardsmarina.com
FLCharter/Headboat For-HireHello, my name is Captain Dylan Hubbard and my family business has been fishing central west coast of Florida for nearly 90 years and four generations. We operate 6 federally permitted vessels both charter and head boats, and I am here today representing my family business and my family’s business history alone. It’s not easy loosing time away from work, my family, and my dog to follow this council around the gulf but my family’s long history fishing the Gulf is worth protecting to me and makes me more driven to get through these meetings and stand up here today. I have recently completed part of the MREP program this past fall and will be attending the science portion of the program this coming week. If you haven’t had a chance to join the program, I would strongly encourage you to do so and I hope it continues to grow and flourish.

Coral Amendment 9
We do not want to see any new HPACs established in the gulf with fishing gear restrictions
40
4/20/2018 18:37:46Julia O'Nealjoneal4@gmail.comOCEAN SPRINGS, MSNGOFor years, I have listened to the Vietnamese fishermen here complain that TEDs would cause them a "hardship." (Yes, it is either an ethnic thing or others are using the Vietnamese as their spokespersons while they stay blameless in the background.) After reading the gist of the online comments, it's pretty clear that the sides have been taken as Economics vs. Ocean Huggers. But very likely, it is regulations which will help conserve the oceans as a food source. (If we can somehow get rid of, and stop the influx of, plastic.) Come on, humans have invented the internet and one of them even figured out relativity--can't they come up with some more sophisticated, less damaging, equipment? Are they THAT stupid, using 18th century technology on the fragile planet?
41
5/4/2018 14:27:54Matthew Alschuler
matthew@cottonexpressions.com
Warren, IL 61087OtherCoral reefs provide vital nurseries for countless species of aquatic animals. By protecting these irreplaceable breeding grounds, we preserve the future of many species. By destroying these, we will contribute to the destruction of an entire ecosystem.
42
5/8/2018 14:13:38Deena Walkerdeena.walker@gmail.com76063OtherWe must protect our coral which are vital to Oceanic health
43
5/8/2018 14:21:05Laura Fainlaura.h.fain@gmail.comHouston, TX, 77056OtherHealthy coral reefs are necessary for healthy seas and oceans. If we are to survive and if we hope to return our waters to health, we need to protect all coral reefs, including the reefs here in the Gulf of Mexico.
44
5/8/2018 14:40:01Ginger A Youngginger_young@hotmail.comSpringOtherI am deeply concerned by the health of our oceans & all the life that is supported in those systems.
Just from being a Scuba Diver recreational for years across the globe it is so alarming the pictures that I see of places that not so very long ago were so healthy & vibrant with life.
Please protect what we have left.
Thank you for your time as well as your consideration.
We're all connected.
45
5/8/2018 14:57:55Donna Bolanddonna.boland@gmail.comMission, TX 78574OtherI own property on South Padre Island, TX and have a vested interest in the health of the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the most valuable places on the planet and needs to be protected environmentally. Especially now!
46
5/8/2018 14:58:55James Robertsjsr72748@gmail.comDallas, TX 75205OtherSave coral, save angler/fishing industry, save environment.

If not what do we tell children, grandchildren when next Love Canal, NY environmental disaster hits, next superfund toxic waste spills into Houston Channel
47
5/8/2018 15:08:43Debra Greenbergdmlgreenbe@verizon.netLewisvilleOtherThe rising oceanic temperature and pollution are taking a toll on our corals. We need to save them while we still can.
48
5/8/2018 15:37:08Michael Lindleymhlindley@swbell.netHouston, TX 77042Private Recreational AnglerPlease help protect our Corals in the Sea!
49
5/8/2018 16:14:43D. Schoechdschoech@sbcglobal.netArlingtonOtherPlease protect the Gulf of Mexico sea floor from trawls, longlines and other damaging gear. Damage to deep sea marine life by spills like the Deep Water Horizon are bad enough without adding other damage by those wanting a quick buck with no regard for the future of the Gulf.
50
5/8/2018 17:16:41Deena Walkerdeena.walker@gmail.com76063OtherWe must protect our coral which are vital to Oceanic health
51
5/8/2018 17:45:11Mary Adkins
marykatadk.island@gmail.com
Galveston TX 77554Private Recreational AnglerPlease protect vulnerable areas of coral reefs from any harm that results from fishing gear. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren deserve the beauty of a healthy, thriving ocean. Thank you.
52
5/8/2018 18:35:51Laura Veravera.ranch@gmail.comDickinson, TX 77539Private Recreational AnglerPlease protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf from damaging fishing gear at all 23 sites!
53
5/8/2018 19:03:50Patrice Johnsonpmjrdm@suddenlink.netLubbock, TX 79413OtherThe coral reefs are the nursery for SO much sea life. They are fragile! Anchors dragged across can destroy them as well as longlines, trawls and traps. The heating up of the oceans from climate change causes bleaching. For example, as sited in a recent report, HALF of the Great Barrier Reef has died from bleaching since 2016! Every effort MUST BE MADE to maintain our coral reefs!
54
5/8/2018 20:27:00Justin LotakJustinlotak@gmail.comGeorgetown, TX, 78633NGO, OtherDear Gulf Council,

I am writing to ask you to protect deep sea coral. Apart from the fact that they receive very little light and take centuries to grow, so much is unknown about these underwater ecosystems. We owe it to current and future generations to protect certain areas of deep sea coral so that it can survive well into the future.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Justin Lotak
Founder of Conservation Atlas
55
5/8/2018 21:08:31Betty Burton Bburtonrn@hotmail.comConroe, Texas, 77385OtherPlease take measures to protect our coral

56
5/8/2018 21:38:03Marce Walshmarcewalsh@yahoo.comHouston, Texas 77066PLEASE protect the deep sea corals in the GULF! Thank you!
57
5/8/2018 22:48:53Tatjana WalkerTatjana@wordwright.comSan Antonio, TX 78212Private Recreational AnglerPlease protect coral reefs in the gulf. They help grow fish and they are beautiful and shouldn't be destroyed by fishing tools.
58
5/9/2018 21:10:37Dirk Rogers
1dog2dogs3dogs@gmail.com
Wichita Falls,TX 76301OtherThere is no doubt that we are dependent on the natural world that we continue to destroy.There are many now that feel that the ways the natural world effects us is secondary to the right of the natural world to not be impacted in a negative way by humans.The history of mankind is pathological and is alert after it is too late to prevent harm.
59
5/9/2018 21:52:40Thomas Pagethomaspage34@gmail.com
Galveston, Texas, 77554
Private Recreational AnglerDeep sea corals need to be made into essential fish habitat.
60
5/14/2018 14:51:17jennifer valentinefaboo1028@yahoo.commassa pk, ny 11762Otherplease protect these corals
61
5/14/2018 17:41:30Karon G Allenkaronallen@hotmail.comHouston, TX 77429OtherAs a concerned citizen, I am writing to request that you vote to protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf from damaging fishing gear at all 23 sites. We are destroying our planet at a rapid rate and if we deplete our waters, it will adversely protect the fishing industry.

Thank you for considering my opinion and comments.
62
5/18/2018 9:04:26test testtest@test.comNew York, NY 10036Othertest
63
5/18/2018 9:11:59test testtest1@test.comNew York, NY 10036NGOtest
64
5/18/2018 9:23:55test test anajjjj@hotmail.comtest, testOthertest
65
5/18/2018 9:45:37htest1@test.comnCommercial Fisherhkh
66
5/22/2018 10:59:37Preston T. Robertsonpreston@fwfonline.orgTallahassee, FL 32301NGORE: Coral Amendment 9

Dear Chair Bosarge:

The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) and its 60,000 members and supporters greatly appreciate the opportunity to comment on the GMFMC’s Coral Amendment 9. As our corals face severe depletion from pollution and other sources, FWF strongly supports actions to protect this important habitat. We kindly ask you to strengthen Amendment 9 by adding protective fishing regulations to all of the HAPC designations and choose Action 2, Preferred Alternative 5, and Action 5, Alternatives 2 and 3.

FWF represents saltwater anglers and other users who understand the need to conserve the natural bounty of the Gulf. Our remaining corals are a critical component of that bounty. Indeed, highly fragile coral ecosystems provide valuable feeding and breeding grounds for a multitude of marine species.

The HAPCs require regulations that will safeguard them from fishing gear impacts so these important coral and sponge communities can continue supporting other aquatic life. Moreover, Action 2, Preferred Alternative 5, is needed to better protect known coral habitat off the west Florida shelf while maintaining fishing grounds in non-coral areas. In any case, bottom-damaging fishing gear should be prohibited in that area. As to Action 5, we recommend that the Council adopt Alternatives 2 and 3, along with Option B, and fishing regulations to protect the Southern Bank and Harte Bank located off Texas.

Please strengthen Amendment 9 to help ensure that future generations of Americans may enjoy a healthy Gulf.

Thank you for your consideration.

Cordially,

Preston T. Robertson

Preston T. Robertson
COO/General Counsel


67
5/23/2018 23:09:38Lesley L Lambright Lambkerr@comcast.netMerida, Mexico 97000OtherI am an American who lives on the shores of Lake Huron and in the winter in Mérida. I love and respect water wether it be Lakes or oceans. The Gulf of Mexico is a rich ecosystem that needs protecting. Please do so. Water is life.
68
5/24/2018 20:31:47Caroline Finley cffinley54@gmail.comFlower Mound,Tx 75022OtherPlease protect the coral reefs. They are vital to a healthy eco system.
69
5/30/2018 9:59:21Donald W. Woodpapawooddj@gmail.comkey westCommercial FisherI oppose any area closures to the bottom longline fishery. There is no real evidence of any damage to the bottom due to the bottom longline fishery. A group of scientist have stated they have seen rapid new coral growth in heavily bottom longlined areas, and have seen the coral colonies in pulley ridge decline since the closure to bottom longlining vessels.
70
5/30/2018 11:39:46Deirdre Newsomdnewsom@accbr.comPrideOtherI ask that you please protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf from damaging fishing gear at all 23 sites.
71
5/30/2018 11:40:54Sue Warnerquakeguard@yahoo.comBeverly Hills FL 34465OtherPROTECT our CORALand REEFS !!
72
5/30/2018 11:45:00Leonard Epstein drriprock@comcast.netPort St Lucie, FLOtherPlease act to protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf from damaging fishing gear at all 23 sites. Sea corals are increasingly endangered without protective action.
Thank you.
73
5/30/2018 11:45:56
Beth Rosenblum Kessinger
bethk60@gmail.comSunriseOtherStop destroying the ocean; try protecting our planet instead. Look around at what's happening on our one and only home.
74
5/30/2018 11:49:27Lisa Arscottlarscott@live.comJupiterOtherPLEASE protect these important Eco systems. I really can't imagine a world without them even if I cannot be there. In my lifetime I can see that we have passed the tipping point where the Earth can survive our onslaught on its own. If we don't do the right thing it is already doomed.
75
5/30/2018 12:00:31Jerry Wayne Hydesandollerz1@hotmail.com
FORT WALTON BEACH. Florida, 32548
OtherI am an avid snorkeler.
I Love the Gulf of Mexico.
Please care?
76
5/30/2018 12:00:46Barbara Johnsonjhitthetrail28@gmail.comCape CoralOtherOur coral reefs need protecting as well as all our sea life
77
5/30/2018 12:09:09Diana L Waldronpheasance@gmail.comJacksonvilleOtherPlease maximize protections for deep-sea coral habitats by restricting fishing and oil and gas activities in affected areas. Florida's sea life deserves our protection.
78
5/30/2018 12:31:04Petra Hays pshays@mindspring.comWinter Park, FL 32789OtherRestrict the use of fishing gear that can damage corals and harm other marine life!! For the good of the planet AND for the good of humans -- we cannot exist without nature, and humans are destroying nature at an alarming rate with an unbelievable shortsightedness..
79
5/30/2018 12:36:10Evelyn McMullenfahdutnik@charter.netMontgomeryenvironmentalis
80
5/30/2018 12:38:06Jessica SmithJsgeraghtyart@aol.com34104Private Recreational Angler I have been a Florida resident for 29 years. My aunt and uncle lived in Key West for over 30 years. Using the coral reefs as part of my family’s recreational activity has been part of my life for 30+ years. There has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of life on these reefs. The reefs are important for so many species including us, It is extremely important that we protect them.
81
5/30/2018 12:42:14Matthew Emmermdez23@gmail.comPlantation, FL 33324OtherI support the proposal that would help safeguard important habitat that provides food, shelter, and breeding grounds for valuable fish species such as snapper and grouper, as well as sharks, starfish, squat lobsters, crabs, and other sea life. The proposal would designate such areas as habitat areas of particular concern, and in some cases by restricting the use of fishing gear that can break or smother fragile corals. These eco systems and species are crucial to both the fishing and tourist industries, and thus job creation, here in Florida. Moreover, deep-sea coral communities, which are difficult and expensive to study, are also natural disease fighters. They hold important properties that are producing treatments for some cancers.

This would be the most significant action ever taken by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to safeguard fragile corals by restricting some harmful gear, such as longlines, trawls, traps, and anchors. Trolling and hook-and-line fishing would still be allowed. Some deep-sea corals can grow hundreds of feet tall while others live for thousands of years. These fragile ecosystems face threats, mainly from some types of gear but also from oil and gas development and changing ocean conditions. And once hurt, the slow-growing corals can take centuries to recover, if they survive.

Accordingly, I support maximum protection for these habitats and species.
82
5/30/2018 12:47:45Carol Nicholsoncnandca@gmail.comAlachua, FL 32615Private Recreational AnglerThe deep sea corals are under assault from destructive gill nets, oil & gas explorations, and pollution. Please designate protected areas for them because once destroyed, they are not easily replaced and the entire ecosystem is hurt.
83
5/30/2018 12:51:37ERIC JARMANdofu4you@yahoo.comTAMPA, FL, 33613OtherI HAVE BEEN A SCUBA DIVER SINCE 1973 - I HAVE SEEN THE DEATH OF TOO MUCH SEA LIFE & CORAL. WE MUST MOVE NOW TO PROTECT WHAT IS LEFT ALIVE AND TO TRY TO RE-POPULATE THE AREAS THAT HAVE BEEN DESTROYED BY MAN'S ACTIONS.

PLEASE LEAVE A PLANET OUR GRANDKIDS WANT TO LIVE ON.

DR. & MRS. ERIC JARMAN - TAMPA
84
5/30/2018 13:02:09Bryn A Rosebrynbuchholz@gmail.comLutzLUTZ FL 33559OtherProtecting these areas is a no-brainer and should be done. We are the only species in this planet capable of saving or destroying our world. We have to take measures now so that damages doesn't become irreversible.
85
5/30/2018 13:04:55Elizabeth Cori-Jonesdixieraincrow@me.comGainesville, FL 32601OtherI love our Gulf of Mexico and the food, beauty, recreation, and all the other benefits it provides countless numbers of humans, as well its ability to sustain vast and diverse marine and terrestrial life. The Gulf ecosystem’s health must be protected, including its coral reefs, which act much like the “canary in the coal mine”, as indicators of the system’s overall well-being.

I am greatly relieved that measures might soon be taken to prevent unnecessary and accidental destruction of our corals, which are already threatened by ocean warming and acidification.

I have hope that you will stand with the scientists and coral experts in making your decision, and that you will thereby help ensure that our marine corals will survive and thrive. Thank you.
86
5/30/2018 13:09:55Val Marjoricastle
valmarjoricastle@yahoo.com
Floral City, FL 34436OtherYou must protect from unacceptably damaging fishing gear the deep-sea corals at all 23 sites specified in Deep Sea Coral Amendment 9.

Better technology exists and better is easily engineered by a small, dedicated team of university from one of Florida's state universities.

I expect you to accomplish this mandate.
87
5/30/2018 15:03:39J. S. Morsejsmorseg@gmail.comKissimmee, Fl. 34759Private Recreational Angler, OtherOur oceans and all life in them are vital to our survival on land already the phytoplankton on which all sea life depend are affected and on the decline if the coral reefs go our oceans will change dramatically. We must do all we can to preserve these ecosystems!
88
5/30/2018 16:17:57Cheryl Curriercecur4@gmail.com Seminole, FL 33776Private Recreational AnglerI would like the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to protect fragile corals by restricting harmful gear like longlines, trawls, traps, and anchors. And, prevent oil and gas development from damaging these fragile ecosystems. Once damaged, recovery, if possible, is a lengthy process.

Please establish clear rules and policies now to prevent further harm to these Gulf of Mexico corals.

Thank you,
CE Currier
89
5/30/2018 16:36:57Michelle Whiteblondenblu2@gmail.comTampa, Florida, 33625OtherI'm a Floridian who enjoys scuba diving not.omly in the Florida Keys, but also in other carribean countries. It takes coral hundreds of years to grow into a reef, which is also an important habitat for hundreds of sea creatures. Man must stop destoying our fragile ocean ecosystem!!! It would be a travesty to destroy the few coral reefs that are left.
90
5/30/2018 16:49:39Janice j Shannonjjstpafla33612@yahoo.comTampaOthera florida native who is concern with our oceans ......growing up we spent the summers at the beach....Pass-a-Grille Beach on the Gulf ...it was always my favorite time.....we went fishing,swimming, boating...&.etc. Please save the Gulf and it's reefs......so others can come to know the pleasure of living by one of the Earth's greatest oceans.....
91
5/30/2018 17:28:22Bradley Smithwileyonez@hotmail.comCape CoralPrivate Recreational Angler, OtherThese fragile ecosystems face threats, mainly from some types of gear but also from oil and gas development and changing ocean conditions. And once hurt, these slow-growing corals can take centuries to recover, if they survive.
This proposal would help safeguard important habitat that provides food, shelter, and breeding grounds for valuable fish species such as snapper and grouper, as well as sharks, starfish, squat lobsters, crabs, and other sea life by designating them as habitat areas of particular concern, and in some cases by restricting the use of fishing gear that can break or smother fragile corals. Deep-sea coral communities, which are difficult and expensive to study, are also natural disease fighters. They hold important properties that are producing treatments for some cancers.
That's why its vital that you support this first-of-its-kind plan and protect all 23 hotspots of deep-sea corals throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Thank you.
92
5/30/2018 17:38:41Felicia Brucespmomtch1@aol.comFort PierceOtherFlorida, indeed, the WORLD, depends on the health of coral reefs. That is why I am asking you to help safeguard important habitat that provides food, shelter, and breeding grounds for valuable fish species such as snapper and grouper, as well as sharks, starfish, squat lobsters, crabs, and other sea life by designating them as habitat areas of particular concern, and in some cases by restricting the use of fishing gear that can break or smother fragile corals. Deep-sea coral communities, which are difficult and expensive to study, are also natural disease fighters. They hold important properties that are producing treatments for some cancers.
93
5/30/2018 17:40:20Bill Klein
klein_william_r@hotmail.com
TitusvillePrivate Recreational AnglerWe need coral reefs for fish and other sealing to survive
94
5/30/2018 17:44:16Andrea Chisarichisaria@att.netMimsOtherProtect the deep-sea coral hotspots.

Safeguard important habitat that provides food, shelter, and breeding grounds for fish such as snapper, grouper, sharks, starfish, lobsters, crabs, and other sea life by designating them as habitat areas of particular concern.

PLEASE.
95
5/30/2018 18:03:24Donna Selquistdselquist@gmail.comPort St LucieOtherIt just breaks my heart that we are destroying our environment every possible way we can, mostly for commercial for-profit reasons, but also I acknowledge out of sheer recreational carelessness.

Nonetheless, we have to do what we can to take care of irreplaceable resources, like our corals. I am asking the Council to protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf from damaging fishing gear at all 23 sites.

Thank you.
96
5/30/2018 19:37:17Melissa Wardmissyandbetsy@icloud.comZephyrhills, fl 33541Private Recreational AnglerSave our gulf. Be responsible. It’s your duty.
97
5/30/2018 19:38:04Phyllis Vargo pvee8457@hotmail.comVero Beach 32968OtherThe health of our oceans is important to our planet’s overall health and to all living creatures. We need to protect it as a valuable asset that keeps on giving, if properly taken care of, and quit treating it like a giant toilet.
98
5/30/2018 19:44:05Marcelle Cragosailswithgrace@yahoo.com34231Private Recreational Angler, OtherTo The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council:

We really enjoy this area and hope you will approve Coral Amendment 9 and protect deep-sea corals, helping to keep our oceans healthy and provide habitat for many important marine animals. These deep-sea communities also contain natural disease fighters and some medical cures for human diseases have already been discovered, and require further study.

In addition to approving Coral Amendment 9, I hope you approve the changes recommended by its science advisors to combine three horizontal boxes off the west Florida shelf into one habitat area of particular concern, called the West Florida Wall. This action better protects known coral habitat and maintains more fishing grounds where corals haven't been found.
And please put in regulations for the eight deepwater sites under consideration, as new fisheries can emerge faster than regulations can be put in place.

Sincerely-Marcelle Crago, RN
99
5/30/2018 21:03:59Marcia HoodwinMarcia@accentsaway.comSarasota, Fl 34238OtherPlease protect deep sea coral from destructive fishing gear.
100
5/30/2018 22:13:21Dobi Dobroslawa
dobi_dobroslawa@yahoo.com
Estero FL 33928OtherPlease safeguard fragile corals by restricting harmful gear, such as longlines, trawls, traps, and anchors. Trolling and hook-and-line fishing would still be allowed. Some deep-sea corals can grow hundreds of feet tall while others live for thousands of years. These fragile ecosystems face threats, mainly from some types of gear but also from oil and gas development and changing ocean conditions. And once hurt, the slow-growing corals can take centuries to recover, if they survive. Thank you.
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