Case Study

Balancing Deep-Sea Coral Protection and Commercial Fisheries

“The real power of having the data on the Northeast Ocean Data Portal is that it allows the people involved in our process to view the data on their own terms, during their own time, at the spatial resolution that they need, in combination with other datasets that are of interest to them.”

Michelle Bachman

New England Fishery Management Council

Northeast Ocean Data Portal User:

New England Fishery Management Council

In Consultation with:


Fishing industry organizations

Environmental non-government organizations

Other stakeholders


To facilitate public review of proposed fishery management areas intended to reduce impacts on deep-sea corals.

Related Ocean Uses:

Published: May 19, 2017

The New England Fishery Management Council is in the process of developing an amendment to protect deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Maine and in the slope/canyon region south of Georges Bank. As part of this process, the Council is considering several alternatives for new management areas that could be established to protect concentrations of deep-sea corals in select locations. To support the decision-making process, the Council and the Northeast Ocean Data Portal Working Group collaborated to make interactive maps of the draft management areas publicly available on the Portal.

Many types of fragile, slow-growing, deep-sea corals live in the waters off New England, providing habitat for fish and invertebrates. The New England Fishery Management Council is taking action to reduce impacts of fishing gear on the corals.

Fishery analyst Michelle Bachman of the New England Fishery Management Council demonstrates the Northeast Ocean Data Portal maps of coral management area alternatives at the NEFMC Habitat Committee’s April 2017 meeting.

There are numerous proposed management areas, and each area has complex boundaries. Making the interactive maps available on the Portal enables fishermen, other stakeholders, and Council members, committees, and staff to review the maps in detail and to overlay the management area alternatives with any data on ocean uses and the ecosystem in which they are interested, such as maps showing fishing vessel activity and predicted coral habitat.

“I can’t anticipate all of the relationships people want to look for in the data and prepare a comprehensive set of static maps to cover what they are trying to visualize,” said Michelle Bachman, fishery analyst and habitat lead for the Council. Providing the interactive maps on the Portal enables the Council to address those diverse needs.

The Council’s staff provided spatial data for the management area alternatives to the Portal Working Group in March 2017, and the Working Group began by incorporating the data into the Data Explorer map viewer on the Portal’s password-protected development site. Through iterative discussions with the Council staff, the cartography, metadata, and associated information were refined and finalized on the development site. Then, in advance of the Council’s April meetings, the maps were released publicly on the Portal website. Traffic on the Data Explorer spiked in April as stakeholders visited the coral management area maps online to obtain information and to prepare formal comments on the proposed coral amendment.

Fishing vessel activity in the multispecies (groundfish) fishery overlaid with some of the coral management area alternatives.

Predicted habitat suitability for Alcyonacea corals overlaid with some of the coral management area alternatives.

The Portal “is a 24-7 instant source of data, which is great,” said Bachman. “I’ve been using the Portal myself as a quick, on-the-go tool. For any serious analysis, I use ArcGIS at the office, but if I’m traveling and want to explore some datasets, the Portal is fast and easy.”

The maps of draft coral management areas continue to be available on the Portal during the public comment period. Following the April meeting, the Council provided the Portal Working Group with updated geospatial data on the zones and boundaries to reflect revisions made by the Council, and the updates are now viewable in the Data Explorer. The Council intends to take final action on the deep-sea coral amendment in June. This is the first time that the Council has used web-based, interactive mapping to engage and inform the public regarding proposed fishery management actions and to support the Council’s decision-making process.

Update (January 31, 2018): In January 2018, the New England Fishery Management Council took final action on its Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment. The Council approved a 600-meter minimum depth broad zone and voted to submit the Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for review and approval.