Can the clocks be stopped?

Date: April 27, 2006

The Swedish environment minister, Lena Sommestad, has announced that Sweden will push for a European Union position in support of a United Nations moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. After two years of governments promising to take “urgent action” to protect deep sea life, will other countries finally follow suit? “The Swedish government is pushing for a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas,” Sommestad said. “We are trying… to convince our EU colleagues that this is an important issue.

Especially in some countries in the EU… it is important that the politicians become aware of how destructive this kind of fishing is.” (1) “In Eurovision lanaguage: Douze points pour la Suède”, said Greenpeace European political advisor, Saskia Richartz. “Ms Sommestad’s statement is significant not only because it maintains Sweden’s commonly progressive role on environmental issues, it also provides further momentum for those countries in the European Union (EU) that want to end the reckless deep sea destruction.” (2) Sommestad made the statement while visiting a Greenpeace exhibition currently touring Europe. Greenpeace is a leading member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. The ‘Deep Look into the Oceans tour’ features a giant trawl net, containing images portraying the beauty of the deep and the destruction caused by bottom trawling. (3) Sommestad said that the Greenpeace exhibition helped her to understand the enormity of the problem, noting that Spain has been problematic in reaching a concensus within the European Union. (4) In previous years’ sessions of the UN General Assembly, the European Union’s opposition to a high seas bottom trawl moratorium has been largely driven by the Directorate General for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs of the European Commission and Spain, the world’s leading high seas bottom trawling country. “All European countries share a joint responsibility with the international community to protect the environment on the high seas – the global common that belongs to no single nation,” said Richartz. Recent statements made this year by the European Commission and EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, suggest that support for a moratorium within the European Union is growing. Sweden is one of a number of EU countries – Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK among them – that have begun calling for a stronger EU position, including at a minimum, a moratorium in high seas areas outside the jurisdiction of regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and far more comprehensive action by those RFMOs which do have jurisdiction over deep-water fisheries.

However, to date, only Sweden has taken sufficiently convincing action for Greenpeace to “stop its clock”. In a countdown to World Oceans Day on 8th June, for each country visited on the tour, Greenpeace has set up a virtual ticking clock on its Defending Our Oceans website with a cyber action to the minister in that country, The hope is that countries visited will come out with strong commitments to a global moratorium on high seas bottom trawling at the United Nations General Assembly later this year. “The clocks must be stopped because they cannot be turned back,” said Sari Tolvanen, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, referring to the fact that deep sea species are exceptionally vulnerable to extinction due to the fact that they live in rarely disturbed environments and tend to be slow growing, late maturing and endemic. “The global high seas bottom trawling fleet consists of only a few hundred vessels and amounts to a very small proportion of the global fishing fleet,” said Tolvanen. “There is no economic reason why the rest of Europe should be held hostage by a few Spanish vessels, when the future of the fragile life of our deep oceans is at stake.” The clocks are still ticking for Poland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Norway – the countries so far visited by the Greenpeace tour. The next countries on the tour itinerary are France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Notes: (1) An interview with Lena Sommestad, Swedish environment minister and Ida Udavic, Greenpeace Oceans campaigner. (Under Sweden’s clock, click on What your minister said) (2) Douze point pour la Suède – Sweden’s Minister announces their support for a UN moratorium on High Seas Bottom Trawling, 17 April 2006, Greenpeace Defending Our Oceans weblog (3) The Beauty Gallery and the Destruction Gallery. (Scroll down for video.) (4) Stop the clocks! 17 April 2006, Greenpeace Ocean Defenders weblog