A deep look into our oceans

Date: May 23, 2006

“High seas bottom trawling is just not acceptable. Governments need to feel the pressure. They’re wiping out 8,000 year old coral reefs for the sake of a few fish destined for the rich country markets. It’s just not acceptable.” Kelly Rigg, coordinator of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition was one of the coalition’s members on Amsterdam’s Museumplein. Surrounded by a giant trawl net and images of deep sea life, she explained some more about the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (or DSCC) and its work.

Kelly Rigg: The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an association of more than 50 environmental and conservation organisations worldwide that are working together to stop the destruction being caused by high seas bottom trawling. Our member organisations all work to hold events, advertisements, all the groups have their own ways of working and ways of exerting influence and so we try to use all the different tools at our disposal. Greenpeace has been one of the most active member organisations of the DSCC. It has carried out fantastic work around the world documenting the problems of high seas bottom trawling both at sea as well as through this exhibition, which is touring through Europe. It’s sponsored scientific events. They’re working at the UN to try to convince governments to stop this madness and to agree to a moratorium. Hans van der Kooi, from the Fisheries Department of the Dutch Ministry for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality visited the exhibition and spoke to Farah Obaidullah, Greenpeace oceans campaigner. Farah Obaidullah: Greenpeace is displaying a deep sea trawl net that is used typically by bottom trawlers on the high seas. The one we have here is a small net 70 x 40 metres long. Hans van der Kooi: Well, I’m quite impressed. In 1992 I was involved in the environment as well and then we were talking about drift nets and they were much larger than this, but… Farah: You have to imagine that in the really big nets, 6 jumbo 747s can easily fit in. So we’re talking enormous sized nets that are used every day to trawl on our high seas and basically destroy everything in their path. And as you can see by the rollers, the big rockhoppers, nothing has a chance to survive once the net passes over it. Hans: When you look at this you get a good impression to see what can be destroyed in the deep seas.Pieter Borkent of Conservation International, another member of the coalition also came to Amsterdam’s museum square. I just climbed on my bicycle to have a look and if possible to sign the petition, because it’s needed that people realise that the diversity of the oceans is being depleted. We’re only going more deep because are we are depleting those areas where the fish is not that deep – they’re going deeper because they can’t find anything any more in the shallow waters. Although we all love fish and we like to eat fish, 90% or more of the fish being caught is not the food we eat, it’s the bycatch. Greenpeace advert “Manta shrimp?” “No! “Lizard fish?” “No!” “Giant squid?” “No!” “Black coral?” “Don’t be stupid!” “Lantern shark?” “No!” “Weird fish I haven’t seen before?” “No!” “Orange Roughy?” “Yup!” Bottom trawlers drag thousands of deep sea species to the surface, yet keep only a few fish. That was a Greenpeace advert. It illustrates only too clearly that in order to catch a few target commercial fish species such as orange roughy, much of the catch is simply thrown back overboard – unwanted. Pieter Borkent: A small percentage of the fish that is being fished is going to market, but most of it is destroying the habitat that those fish live in and all the living things that are around. Farah Obaidullah: And the damage that these trawlers have on the seafloor is irreversible. 8,000 year old coral that gets scooped up in one go will not grow back quickly. And what about the deep sea fish that are kept? Farah Obaidullah: The problem with deep-sea fish is that they are slow growing. Bear in mind that these fish live up to 140 years old – that’s twice the age of your grandmother. Next time you buy fish or eat fish in a restaurant, make sure you know where it comes from. Make sure that it’s caught sustainably. If it’s a deep-sea fish, then don’t eat it. Orange roughy, for example, is a well-known delicacy in certain countries, not here in the Netherlands, but for example, in France, US and in several other countries around the world. It’s in my opinion unjustified to eat fish without any proper management system in place to ensure the future of these fish stocks and the marine environment. In addition to its tour with the giant bottom trawl net through 11 European countries, Greenpeace is currently capturing the beauty of the deep around the Azores. Farah: Greenpeace is undertaking a year long expedition Defending Our Oceans to highlight the theats that our oceans are facing and at this very moment our ship is in the Azores to highlight the beauty of the oceans. On our ship the Esperanza we have an ROV – a remotely operated vehicle and we have experienced camera crew who are trying to capture footage on seamounts in the deep seas to show what unique life and what an abundance of life actually thrives down there. It is difficult – if was easy, we would already have lots of footgage from the deep sea. But we have been able to capture some amazing footage. It remains a tough challenge but it’s necessary, because if people don’t see what it is that we are destroying, it is difficult to get them passionate about trying to preserve and protect it. The Azores is a unique place, because the islands are surrounded by deep seas and seamounts and it’s exactly on these seamounts around the world that high seas bottom trawling takes place. Seamounts are mountains underwater and on the seamounts you find unique habitats with endemic species – species that are found on that particular seamount alone. You’ve got coldwater coral reefs with a whole wealth of fishes that are associated with the ecosystem there. Seamounts are also important because of the currents that they generate – they hold a lot of nutrients, which then attract migratory fish species, which use seamounts not only as a place to rest and to nourish themselves, but also as a way of navigating through the oceans. So, what needs to happen to protect the amazing deep sea life that concentrates on and around seamounts like those in the deep waters off the Azores? Kelly Rigg explains. The overall goal of the coalition is to get a moratorium through the United Nations General Assembly. It is the only body that has responsibility for the high seas, which lie beyond the jurisdiction of any national state and it is there where there are virtually no protection measures in place. The difficulty is that the United Nations works in this particular process on the basis largely of concensus – you have to get everybody agreeing to this kind of action all at the same time and while I would say we have the vast majority of countries at this point in support of strong action on high seas bottom trawling, there are a few hold outs – mostly the fishing nations in particular the European Union which is responsible for about 60% of high seas bottom trawling world-wide, has been adamantly opposed to a moratorium. The biggest hold out of course is Spain, which is responsible fully for 40% of high seas bottom trawling worldwide, and they have so far kept a very big stranglehold on the EU position. We’re hoping that through this kind of action that Europe may change its position soon. Certainly within Europe there are quite a number of governments that are starting to feel very uncomfortable with this do nothing attitude. Those countries that are currently supporting a moratorium, or at least strong action of some kind would include the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, quite a number of countries in Europe.Here’s what you can do to help persuade Spain and the European Union to support a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. Farah: Go to our website www.oceans.greenpeace.org and ask your minister today to support a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling and become an ocean defender!

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