Ocean dead or alive? High time for time out on high seas bottom trawling

Date: February 23, 2005

Last year, UNEP designated the “Ocean – Dead or Alive” as the central theme of World Environment Day (5 June) and the publication of the report “Cold Water Corals – Out of Sight but no Longer Out of Mind”, stressed the need to protect cold water corals.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) has urged environment ministers meeting in Nairobi this week at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to act – both at home within their governments and collectively at the international level, and support a UN moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas this year. On World Environment Day last year, the DSCC applauded UNEP Executive Director Dr. Klaus Toepfer’s statement that “everyone must be aware (that) without intact coral reefs, warm and cold water reefs, you will not be able to restore fish stocks fully. This is another alarm call to change the techniques of fishing, especially bottom trawling which has quite disastrous consequences.” Re-committing his agency’s efforts to strengthen environmental protection at the opening ceremony in Nairobi on Monday, Toepfer said in an earlier press briefing, “If you damage the environment, all the millennium development goals are going to be harder to achieve.” Ministers and national delegations from over 100 countries are gathered at the 23rd Session of UNEP Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC-23/GMEF), to discuss ways to improve the environment to reach the UN’s millennium goals for poverty eradication. Marine scientists consider bottom trawling to be the most destructive activity impacting on deep-sea life and in particular cold water corals and other vulnerable ecosystems. (1) A ‘time out’ is now needed for a thorough scientific assessment of the impact of bottom trawl fishing on deep-sea biodiversity in international waters. A temporary moratorium would also provide the space for policy makers to develop the necessary legal and management regimes to ensure that future deep-sea fisheries on the high seas are sustainably, ecologically and equitably managed. Remi Parmentier, attending the Global Environment Ministerial Forum for the DSCC welcomed calls from the marine scientific community, the conservation community (including Resolution 051 and Recommendation 018 adopted by IUCN’s 3rd World Conservation Congress in Bangkok in November 2004), and a growing number of governments for a United Nations General Assembly moratorium on high seas bottom trawl fishing. “We call upon UNEP to continue its efforts to protect cold water corals and seamounts against destructive fishing methods, in line with the ecosystem approach and the precautionary principle,” Parmentier said. Although no specific action is expected on this issue at this week’s Ministerial meeting in Nairobi, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition trusts that Environment Ministers will hear the calls from the scientific and conservation community, and help facilitate the adoption of a temporary moratorium on high seas bottom trawling in international waters.

Notes: (1) In February 2004, 1,136 scientists from 69 countries released a statement expressing concern “that human activities, particularly bottom trawling, are causing unprecedented damage to the deep-sea coral and sponge communities on continental plateaus and slopes, and on seamounts and mid-ocean ridges.” The statement called on governments and the United Nations to establish an immediate moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. (See MCBI’s website for more information).

Contact: Remi Parmentier, dsccinfo@savethehighseas.org