21 January 2015
Author: Alex Rogers
There is a tendency to think of the deep waters around the British Isles as cold, dark, desolate places that cannot be compared to their vibrant tropical counterparts. Cold and dark, yes, but those of us who have had the privilege to visit and study these areas know that they are anything but desolate. The UK’s deep-sea ecosystems comprise a fantastic variety of life, including cold-water corals, sponge fields, and unique underwater habitats and species.
They are important, beautiful, fragile, and under constant threat from one of the world’s most environmentally destructive and economically wasteful methods of fishing – deep-sea bottom trawling.
This year the UK government has a rare chance to achieve a long-term win for its deep-sea ecosystems, its taxpayers and the public if it seizes a historic opportunity to secure protection for Europe’s deep ocean. Together with 60 of my fellow scientists, including many of the country’s leading marine experts, I have written to fisheries minister George Eustice urging him to take a lead role in the ongoing negotiations over a new EU regulation aimed at overhauling the management of deep-sea fisheries and protecting Europe’s deep-sea ecosystems.
At the moment, the position of the UK in the negotiations is not as ambitious as many scientists – and increasing numbers of citizens – would like. On the positive side, the government supports closing deep-sea areas containing vulnerable marine ecosystems to bottom fishing. But the UK remains opposed to phasing-out the deep-sea bottom trawling and gillnetting that is responsible for decimating so much of its marine heritage.