Deep-sea trawling must be banned

4 September 2013

Source: Nature

Author: Les Watling

Trawling the bottom of the ocean, dragging heavy metal equipment along the seabed at high speed, is the most destructive form of deep-sea fishing in the world. The fishing industry loves it because it is very effective. But it is indiscriminate and leaves behind a trail of devastation.

This month, the European Union (EU) is scheduled to vote on a proposed ban on deep-sea bottom trawling. If passed, the ban would be the first of its kind, although it would build on existing prohibitions on trawling in shallower water. It could give the seas some breathing space and fish stocks a chance to recover.

There has been intense lobbying against the proposed ban by a fishing industry that has strong ties with the governments of several countries and support from Ifremer, the predominant French fisheries-research organization. Lobbying groups have threatened legal action against scientists for publishing data deemed to be critical of the industry. The EU Fisheries Committee includes Members of the European Parliament from French, UK and Spanish areas in which deep-sea fishing vessels are docked. These ties have slowed the committee's consideration of the proposed ban to a crawl: it has postponed its vote by several months from the originally scheduled date.

By contrast, the EU environment committee, which is not so dominated by members from fishing ports, voted 58 to 1 in favour of the ban in March.

In the run-up to the Fisheries Committee vote, now set for 18 September, science has been dragged into the political fight. The fishing lobby has published a series of influential pamphlets that start with the famous phrase “the inconvenient truth”. In essence, the pamphlets suggest that it is possible to use a lighter version of trawling equipment to trawl in the deep sea without doing much damage; that stocks of the target species are not being depleted; and that non-target catch is made up of just a few abundant species that are not in any kind of trouble. Many of the 'truths' listed are quoted by European politicians. Yet they are bunk.

For more, go to: www.nature.com/news/deep-sea-trawling-must-be-banned-1.13656