Coral in the northern Gulf of Maine. Credit: Courtesy of the Gulf of Maine Deep Sea Coral Science Team / Maine Public

Fisheries regulators in the Northeast permanently protected 25,000 square miles of seafloor against some types of commercial fishing, in an effort to protect sensitive deep-sea corals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a final rule this week that bars mobile bottom-trawling gear from vast deep-sea areas along the outer continental shelf off New England and in smaller areas closer to Maine’s coast.

“The deep sea corals have a very fragile skeleton, and can be broken or displaced with a single pass of these nets, and they won’t recover,” said Gib Brogan, who directs advocacy campaigns for Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation group.

Brogan said the areas in question don’t see many trawlers right now, but the NOAA designations mark a proactive effort to ward off damaging fishing practices that have emerged elsewhere.

“There’s a particular piece of gear called a ‘canyon-buster door’ that was specifically engineered to go fishing in the deep water canyons where the corals are growing,” Brogan said.

Protected zones include some sea bottom that’s valued by Maine’s lobster fleet, including parts of Georges Bank — an area near Mount Desert Rock — and Schoodic Ridge. But lobster pots are specifically exempted from the new regulations, which were proposed by the regional Northeast Fisheries Management Council.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.