The Garden State Seafood Association's President, Ernie Panacek, is the recipient of the Regional Ocean Champions Award from Monmouth University's Urban Coast Institute. Richard Robins, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and Jay Odell, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Marine Program at the Nature Conservancy, join Mr. Panacek as recipients of the award for their collective, pivotal roles in preserving 38,000 square miles of Mid-Atlantic coral reef habitat.

Trenton, New Jersey (PRWEB) November 02, 2015

Representatives from the Garden State Seafood Association (GSSA) are among those being honored for their efforts to preserve 38,000 square miles of Mid-Atlantic ocean habitat, and extend valuable protections to vulnerable coral reefs. Ernie Panacek, President of the GSSA, Richard Robins, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), and Jay Odell, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Marine Program at the Nature Conservancy, were presented with this year’s Regional Ocean Champions Award, given by the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University, at the Institute’s 11th Annual Future of the Ocean Symposium.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, and Terry Garcia, the Chief Science and Exploration Officer at the National Geographic Society, were presented with the National Champions of the Ocean Award.

Earlier this year, the MAFMC approved the Deep Sea Corals Amendment, which created a series of “deep sea coral zones,” totaling over 38,000 square miles, to be closed off to fishing gear that comes into contact with the seafloor. These zones protect the fragile coral ecosystems and other notable habitats from potentially harmful disturbances.

“The Deep Sea Corals Amendment presented the Council with an opportunity of a lifetime to conserve sensitive deep sea corals and their associated marine ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic,” said Mr. Robins. “What was so unique about this action was that we used a participatory approach to defining the protected areas, which allowed a broad range of stakeholders to reach consensus on what those boundaries should be.”

This participatory process brought together Council members, fishermen and industry representatives, scientists, and other stakeholders in a collaborative and cooperative effort.

“The fishing industry has a lot to offer intellectually,” said Mr. Panacek. “When there is mutual respect, meaningful results can be achieved.”

The resulting protections have been widely praised, by environmentalists and fishermen alike. Peter Baker, of the The Pew Charitable Trusts, wrote in a post featured on the Conservation Law Foundation’s Talking Fish blog that the Amendment would “cement a conservation legacy for the Mid-Atlantic.”

Industry representatives, such as GSSA Executive Director Greg DiDomenico, see the open and inclusive process that lead to the Amendment as an example for fisheries managers nationwide, one that demonstrates the value of stakeholder engagement and proves that the fisheries management system established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act works.

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“The process in the Mid-Atlantic should be the model for developing targeted habitat protection in New England,” said Mr. DiDomenico. “An open, collaborative process is the best way to build on these efforts.”

The Champion of the Ocean Awards honor those who have “demonstrated sustained leadership in advancing a future in which coasts and oceans are clean, safe, sustainably managed and preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.”

This is the second time this year that GSSA has been honored for its conservation work. Mr. DiDomenico, along with MAFMC Chairman Robins, were recognized as Conservation Leaders by the New York Aquarium in a September ceremony held at the Central Park Zoo.

About the Garden State Seafood Association
The Garden State Seafood Association (GSSA) advocates on behalf of New Jersey’s fishermen and fishing communities. Through closely monitoring regulatory developments, actively participating in the management process, and sharing the latest fisheries news and information with our members, GSSA holds our leaders accountable to the concerns and priorities of New Jersey’s hard working, historic fishing industry.

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