Rapacious Fishing Threatens Ancient Seabed Habitats – Call For UN To Take Action

Date: October 5, 2004

A Coalition of leading environmental and conservation organisations today warned that the international community is failing to protect seabed habitats of the high seas, as oceans negotiations begin at the United Nations (UN) this week.

Resolutions tabled for negotiation by the UN General Assembly fall a long way short of the urgent protection needed. Calling for a UN moratorium on bottom trawl fishing on the high seas, which wipes out unique species and irreplaceable ecosystems, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) has argued that nothing less can preserve this fragile wilderness. Kelly Rigg, Coordinator of the DSCC said, “One fifteen minute trawl can lay a deep seabed habitat to waste, destroying cold water corals which have taken millennia to grow. We may end up driving species as yet undiscovered by science to extinction. Governments and scientists have been calling for urgent action to protect these deep sea treasures for the last two years, and governments are poised to simply repeat the call again. It’s like waking up to find a rattlesnake in your bed, and suggesting that someone, somewhere, consider doing something about it.” Only a handful of countries have deep sea bottom trawl fleets, the most prolific amongst these being Spain, Russia and New Zealand; others include Portugal, Norway, Estonia, Denmark/Faroe Islands, Japan, Lithuania, Iceland and Latvia. These 11 countries took approximately 95% of the reported high seas bottom trawl catch in 2001, some travelling great distances to do so. High seas fishing fleets pursue a small number of fish species such as orange roughy, and deliberately target seamounts (underwater mountains) which attract them. Seamounts provide rich habitats for cold water corals and other species, many of which only exist around one single seamount or a contained seamount chain.

In addition to causing irreversible damage to the seamount habitat itself, bottom trawling is also putting fish stocks at risk of collapse. Most deep sea life forms are slow to grow and reproduce, with orange roughy, for example, living to 130 years of age. This means that they cannot easily recover from overfishing and many deep sea fisheries have become over exploited in less than 10 years. Alistair Graham, an advisor to WWF International, said: “There is a free-for-all mentality on the high seas areas beyond any national jurisdiction. Governments, collectively under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, must establish legal structures for protecting the high seas. The ‘time out’ afforded by an interim moratorium will ensure that there is something left to protect by then.” The DSCC represents millions of members in countries around the world and is supported in its concerns by members of both the scientific and fishing communities. Greenpeace, a leading coalition member, is about to send its ship MV Esperanza out onto the high seas to spotlight the immediate threat posed by bottom trawlers. Dima Litvinov aboard the Esperanza said, “Bottom trawlers are effectively clear-cutting areas as rich in life as any rainforest. Every day wasted just discussing the need for urgent action means possibly another deep sea habitat will be gone”.

Notes: A VNR and B roll containing images of the deep seas and bottom trawl fishing is available from Greenpeace. Contact: Maarten van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, Video Producer on ++ 31 6 4619 7322. Sara Holden on ++ 31 615 007 406 View a web version of the VNR:
Windows Media, 3mins, 7.1MB
Real Media, 3mins, 6.7MB
Quicktime, 3mins, 13.4MB A CD Rom of stills depicting the deep sea bed and the impacts of bottom trawl fishing is available from Mirella von Lindenfels. Images are available from this site’s multimedia section.

For further information please contact: Mirella von Lindenfels on ++ 44 20 8882 5041 or mobile ++ 44 (0) 7717 844 352 Victoria Mottram on ++ 44 20 7403 5572 or mobile ++ 44 (0) 7976 748060

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