- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

A piece of environmental legislation introduced recently in the Senate to protect sea coral and sponges has drawn wide bipartisan support.

The Bottom Trawling and Deep Sea Coral Habitat Act of 2005 would restrict trawling in parts of the ocean that are home to deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.

“We have [support from members on] both sides of the aisle, both sides of Congress, and members of both coasts,” said Phil Kline, a spokesman for the nonprofit marine conservation group Oceana. “So we have a truly bipartisan piece of legislation, which is unusual in its own right.”

The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat; Mel Martinez, Florida Republican; and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat; and in the House by Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr., Florida Republican; Sam Farr, California Democrat; Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican; and Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat.

The law is designed to protect deep-sea corals because they form reefs that serve as a habitat for species important to the seafood industry, such as sea bass, snapper and rock shrimp. Environmental groups worry that large-bottom trawler ships will shred these cold-water corals as they scrape the ocean floor.

Scientists at Oceana warned that ripping up the coral poses a risk not only to the seafood industry, but to efforts to discover beneficial uses for deep-sea coral, which might contain chemical properties useful in treating diseases.

The bill divides sections of the ocean into bottom trawl zones, where trawling would be permitted, and coral habitat conservation zones, where the practice would be forbidden.

“This is balanced legislation that addresses an issue identified in the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s report by protecting sensitive marine ecosystems without causing undue harm to the livelihoods of fishermen,” Mr. Pallone said.

Colleagues on the opposite side of the aisle echoed Mr. Pallone’s view.

The act “serves as a balanced approach between commerce and preserving ecosystem habitat that has been around for possibly thousands of years,” Mr. Shaw said. “Equally important to providing fisherman with continued access to certain areas while protecting those habitats … is the research component of the bill, which will provide interest groups, industry officials and the federal government with more concrete data on deep-sea coral habitats.”

The bill’s sponsorship “indicates that this is truly an issue of concern and can be addressed in a bipartisan fashion,” said Mr. Kline, adding, “which is very unusual for the 109th Congress.”

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