The waters surrounding the USA contain a wide variety of different coral species, including both tropical and cold-water corals. The cold-water corals are usually found along the continental shelf and in canyons. So far, several species of octocoral have been found to be common, and over 17 species of stony corals have been found.
Scientists first discovered a major cold-water reef complex consisting of Oculina varicosa, along the continental shelf edge about 26 to 50 km off Florida’s central east coast. Since the discovery of these Oculina banks in 1975 it appears that the condition of these reefs and the fish productivity has declined.
This resulted in the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council designating the area an MPA. Since 1984 a total of 315 km² has been protected, with trawling, dredging and anchoring banned. In 1994, hook and line fishing was banned for ten years and has since been extended indefinitely. The MPA has been extended to cover 1029 km² since 2000, but there is still evidence that illegal trawling is taking place. In 2004, a further six areas were put forward as potential Habitat Area of Particular Concern and may receive protected status in the future.
The Aleutian Islands are located in US territorial waters off the coast of Alaska and are under immense fishing pressure. The waters surrounding these Islands are heavily fished, with commercial species such as walleye Pollock, Pacific Code, Atka mackerel, rock fish and sablefish all valuable catches. US fisheries observers recorded approximately 2 million kg of coral and sponge bycatch between 1990 and 2002.
In 2005, the US fisheries body, NOAA Fisheries, announced the creation of the Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area, an area exceeding 274,000 square nautical miles. This area is closed to bottom trawling fisheries and also contains other conservation measures protecting essential fish habitat in Alaska. In the Gulf of Alaska, ten habitat conservation habitat areas have been closed to bottom trawling and five smaller areas in south-east Alaska will be closed to all bottom contact fishing to protect coral habitat. Additionally, 15 areas surrounding seamounts will be closed to bottom contact fishing.