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Coalition Calls for End to Deep Sea Trawling in Oceans

Deep-sea trawling's 'great harm'

By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent (UK) Posted 10/7/04

A coalition of leading environmental and conservation groups has called for
a ban on the damaging fishing practice known as bottom-trawling.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition says the technique of dragging heavy
nets across the seafloor is doing immense harm to fragile ecosystems.

As well as bringing up valuable fish species, such as orange roughy, the
trawlers also gouge out corals.

The coalition wants the United Nations General Assembly to ban the

Marine scientists and conservationists presented their case at a meeting in
London, UK.

Slow world

The principal of bottom-trawling is simple - drag a heavy net across the
ocean floor, and any fish there will be caught. The problem is, everything
else is caught, too.

It has been likened to fishing with a bulldozer.

According to one study discussed at the meeting, a single net can snare a
tonne and a half of coral every hour.

These are cold-water corals - not the brightly coloured reefs of the
tropics, but deep-water varieties which grow very slowly.

According to Dr Alex Rogers, from the British Antarctic Survey (Bas), this
makes them particularly vulnerable.

"These are very slow-growing ecosystems," he told BBC News.

"We've measured the age of some of these off Europe to 8,500 years old. If
they're damaged heavily, they may take hundreds or thousands of years to
recover - or may not recover at all."

World discussions

The countries with deep-sea bottom-trawling fleets are few in number.

They include Spain, Russia and New Zealand, but there are other fleets
operating out of Portugal, Norway, Estonia, Denmark/Faroe Islands, Japan,
Lithuania, Iceland and Latvia.

The Coalition says these 11 countries took approximately 95% of the
reported high seas bottom-trawl catch in 2001.

On one seamount in the Tasman Sea, we found 850 species of which a third
haven't been found anywhere else
Dr Alex Rogers, Bas
The fleets are after valuable fish species such as the orange roughy, blue
ling and roundnose grenadier. These creatures hug the underwater mountains
known as seamounts and it is these locations which provide such rich
habitats for cold-water corals and the other animals and plants that live
among them.

As a United Nations report released earlier this year made clear, these
corals are far more widespread than scientists had previously believed,
stretching from northern European waters to the south of Australia.

The scientists and environmentalists gathered in London fear
bottom-trawling will destroy many of the reefs before researchers have had a
chance to study them.

"On one seamount in the Tasman Sea, we found 850 species of which a third
haven't been found anywhere else," Dr Rogers explained.

"And on the Norfolk Ridge near New Caledonia, there are a dozen seamounts
which have been explored. Here there were around 1,200 species, a half of
them new to science."

Currently, discussions are underway at the United Nations in New York on
fisheries and ocean management. These discussions will result in resolutions
being put before the General Assembly next month.

Important elements

The Coalition is urging the UN to declare a global moratorium on
bottom-trawling as soon as possible.

"We are advocating a short-term emergency moratorium until the
international community comes to its senses and decides how to manage
deep-sea fisheries," said Coalition coordinator Kelly Rigg.

In February this year, more than 1,100 marine scientists also signed a
statement calling on the UN and world governments to stop the destruction of
deep-sea corals.

Their statement was released at the annual meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"Deep-sea corals and sponges are crucial habitat elements for seafloor
species," Dr Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia, in
Vancouver, Canada, told BBC News at the AAAS gathering.

"Allowing trawling in coral 'forests' is the worst thing we are doing in
the ocean today. It should be stopped immediately until scientists can
determine whether trawling in the deep sea can be justified anywhere.

"Nothing could be dumber than destroying the habitats that depleted fish
populations need to recover. Governments must stop pussyfooting around and
do something useful."

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition includes Conservation International,
Greenpeace International, World Conservation, the Marine Conservation
Biology Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the New
England Aquarium, among others.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/10/06 10:03:02 GMT