DSCC News

Maritime Union backs action on bottom trawling

9 June 2005 As Greenpeace activists onboard the Rainbow Warrior take action against bottom trawling fishing vessels in the Tasman Sea, the Maritime Union of New Zealand says it supports the direct action. Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says it has become obvious that overfishing and bad practices such as bottom trawling are wrecking the environment, and would also destroy the industry that depends on the environment. According to Hanson it is time for New Zealanders think about the livelihoods of future generations as well as the environment. According to Glover and Smith, he’s right - fishermen have only 20 years before all deep-sea fisheries present in 2003 are commercially extinct. (1) Hanson recommends a complete overhaul of the fishing industry with much stronger regulation and a long-term strategy to overcome its problems, especially with regard to pay and conditions for workers, and the sustainability of fish stocks. As a result of their slow growth and low reproductive rates, deep-sea fishes are the most vulnerable of all fishes to overfishing. (2) Seamount fisheries have repeatedly devastated fish populations in just a few years. (3) In its recent review of deep-water fishing, the ICES Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management expressed concern that "deep-sea stocks can be depleted very quickly and that recovery will be slow."(4) The fishing industry, however, remains on the whole reluctant to accept the science and continues to make numerous claims aimed at downplaying the detrimental effects of bottom trawling on deep-sea ecosystems. On the second day of the UNICPOLOS discussions, industry representatives tried to convince delegates that bottom trawl gear isn’t the real problem and that bottom trawl nets don't really touch the seafloor – they "fly past" seamounts, only touching the bottom for five minutes. Closely examining the fishing industry’s spurious claims, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition’s paper ‘High Seas Bottom Trawl Red Herrings: Debunking Claims of Sustainability’ sets the record straight once and for all. (5) As the report states: "These claims are easily refuted by the staggering amount of scientific evidence demonstrating the harmful impacts and unfortunate expansion of the bottom trawling fishery from the shallow continental shelf to deeper and more distant waters beyond national jurisdiction." The document presents a compilation of the claims offered by the fishing industry, each followed by a powerful rebuttal based on the best available science. There are for example, numerous scientific studies demonstrating the harmful effects of trawling on the seabed. Dozens of studies demonstrate that trawling alters seabed communities and reduces habitat complexity, productivity, and biological diversity. And scientists have recorded conclusive visual evidence of trawling impact in the form of images of deep gouges and sand clouds caused by trawl gears raking the seafloor. (6) (Videos and photographs of the destructive impacts of deep sea bottom trawling are available from our video section and new photo gallery.) The image of a giant piece of gorgonian coral being hoisted out of a bottom trawl net taken by a fisheries observer onboard a New Zealand bottom trawler gives all too clear a picture of the destruction wreaked on deep sea habitats by bottom trawl vessels operating on the high seas. In expeditions to the Tasman Sea and North Atlantic, Greenpeace has documented large quantities of coral being brought up in the nets of high seas bottom trawlers, along with huge rocks and endangered black coral, a CITES listed species for over 20 years. A second paper just released by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and produced by a group of scientists from the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, USA, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK, and the Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John’s, Canada, concludes that "bottom trawling on the high seas is not sustainable given the inadequacy of current management and may very well be unsustainable at even greatly reduced levels of fishing." (7) Of the 64% of the oceans designated as high seas areas, 75% are unregulated. There clearly can be no sustainable management of the oceans if the majority lacks regulation. Speaking to delegates at the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS), Greenpeace oceans policy advisor, Karen Sack said: "Adopting short-term measures to address the impacts of high seas bottom trawling will provide the breathing space needed for you to consider how best to fulfil your responsibilities under international law to conserve marine biodiversity and ensure sustainable fisheries for future generations." "It's a race against time", said Greenpeace campaigner, Carmen Gravatt, onboard Greenpeace’s ship the Rainbow Warrior. For two days, Greenpeace has disrupted a New Zealand bottom trawler, the Ocean Reward, from setting its nets in international waters. "Bottom trawlers are wiping out life in the deep sea before we even know what's down there. Every trawl we stop could save a coral forest that took hundreds of years to grow. We urgently need a moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters." Notes: (1) Glover, A.G., and C.R. Smith (2003). The deep-sea floor ecosystem: current status and prospects of anthropogenic change by the year 2025. Environmental Conservation 30(3): 219-241 (2) Gordon, J.D.M., et al (1995). Environmental and biological aspects of slope-dwelling fish. pp.1-30 in A.G. Hopper ed., Deep Water Fisheries of the North Atlantic Oceanic Slope, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht; Morato et al (2004). Vulnerability of seamount fish to fishing: Fuzzy analysis of life-history attributes. pp. 51-60 in T. Morato and D. Pauly, eds. Seamounts: Biodiversity and Fisheries (3) Deep-sea fisheries on the Emperor Seamount chain in the north Pacific, off New Zealand, Australia and Namibia and in the North Atlantic and Southern Indian Oceans have all experienced rapid depletions of deep-sea fish populations. From DSCC white paper, see note (5). (4) Report of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fishery Management, 2003, ICES Report number 261 (5) High Seas Bottom Trawl Red Herrings: Debunking Claims of Sustainability, June 200, prepared by the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) for the DSCC, June 2005 (pdf) English | Spanish (6) P.3 ibid (7) June 2005 Why the World Needs a Time Out on High Seas Bottom Trawling, June 2005, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, USA, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK, and the Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John’s, Canada (pdf) English | Spanish