SpruceRoots Magazine - December 2000

OF FORTUNE COOKIES AND SEA VENTS

The sponge reefs face human threats. Since their 'discovery' a decade ago, mechanical damage by seafloor bottom trawling (dragging) is evident on the reefs. Sidescan sonar images have recorded parallel scars, kilometres long, from trawl doors scraping across the reef. Video footage attests to the presence of sponge "stumps" and ridges of ploughed sponge skeletal debris, a probable result of dragging activities. In fact, pieces of the sponge reef have been brought up in trawl nets for over a decade - coined by fishermen as "fortune cookies," these unidentifiable pieces of reef crumbled much like their namesake. Conway strongly recommended to Fisheries and Oceans Canada: that "the sponge reef complexes should be protected immediately from bottom trawling and other forms of anthropogenic (human) activity." Trawling of the ocean floor is like logging the forest by scraping the earth's surface to remove the trees and animals. It is non-selective and impacts all marine life that is in the way of the trawl net and doors. In the pursuit of a few fish species, dragging destroys fish populations and habitat, local ecology and balance in the ecosystem.

Oil and gas development also poses a threat to the sponge reef ecosystem through the physical impacts of seismic testing and drilling. Although Premier Ujjal Dosanjh recently announced that the offshore oil and gas moratorium will remain in place until "science is able to address the dangers from earthquakes and potential spills to safeguard our coastal waters," the province continues on a path to look at the potential for lifting the moratorium, and with a provincial election pending, the future of the sponge reef is uncertain.

Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) personnel are currently meeting with bottom trawl fishermen to discuss the potential for voluntary fishing closures around the sponge reefs. At the will of the DFO Director General (DG), immediate short-term protection from harmful fishing activities can be achieved by designating a fishing area closure through the Fisheries Act. This short term fishing closure should pave the way for long-term protection of the sponge reefs through full MPA designation under the federal Oceans Act.

As unique natural phenomena in our seascape, sponge reefs fit the bill for attaining Marine Protected Area (MPA) status. They meet MPA objectives of contributing to the protection of marine biodiversity and special natural features, providing scientific research opportunities and increasing education and awareness of marine issues. Conway cautions that "the opportunity for study (of these sponge reefs) . . . will not exist in the future without protection."

As MPAs, the sponge reefs would benefit from a minimum standard of protection, including no ocean dumping, no dredging and no exploration for or development of non-renewable resources. Remarkably, MPAs do not necessarily limit fishing activities, therefore additional protection from detrimental fishing practices must be included to fully protect the reefs. Marine Protected Areas are a part of anintegrated, more holistic view of ocean management; To conserve all marine ecosystems for future generations, we must shift our focus towards a more encompassing andintegrated view of our place in the natural world.

You can make a difference! As a member of the public or concerned group, your comments regarding conservation of the unique sponge reefs and their associated ecosystem can accelerate government processes to protect them from further harm. Scientists have presented strong evidence that the sponge reefs are being negatively impacted by human activities and thus have recommended immediate protection for the reefs. The Director General needs to hear that the public wants long-term protection through MPA designation with additional fishing gear restrictions. The sponge reefs deserve our guardianship; Endorsements for immediate fishing closures and MPA designation begin with your input.

Please send your concerns about the well-being of the sponge reefs of Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound to:

Donna Petrachenko, Director General
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
555 West Hastings St.
Vancouver, B. C. V6B 5G3

SpruceRoots Magazine - December 2000