Ottawa – In a meeting with Dr. Sylvia Earle, Canadian Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn agreed with the renowned ocean explorer’s views on deep sea bottom trawling. “It does damage to the stocks and it does damage to the habitat,” Hearn said. (1) However, Hearn could not say whether Canada will support a moratorium on deep sea bottom trawling in international waters at UN talks in June. He referred to the need to consider companies and people dependent on deep-sea fisheries.
Canada permits bottom trawling within its own waters. But although Canadian fishermen are not active in deep-sea fisheries on the high seas, Canada has been reluctant to support the call for a moratorium. Dr. Sylvia Earle (2), Executive Director of the Global Marine Division at Conservation International (CI), met with Hearn and other senior members of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans “to encourage the Canadian government to engage with the scientific community to better understand the dire impact that high seas bottom trawling has on marine biodiversity, and to form their policies based upon that”. (3) Dr. Earle pointed out that most of the high seas have not yet been subject to bottom trawling, making rapid action critical. “The deep sea is one of the areas where we have a chance to get it right”, she said. With the depletion and collapse of other fisheries around the world, the commercial fishing industry is increasingly moving to the offshore areas of the high seas, where no single nation can put in place regulations or enforcement. Biologically rich underwater mountains (seamounts), around which deep sea life concentrates, are being devastated by bottom trawling. One of the most destructive fishing practices, it destroys marine life and habitat by dragging nets weighted with heavy rollers and trawl doors along the ocean floor. Dr. Earle has personally witnessed the effects of bottom trawling on deep-sea ecosystems. “Before trawling, you see eyes that look out from all the little crevices, crannies, burrows and little hills… After a trawler has gone by, it looks like a superhighway, it’s just flat. Nobody’s home… the residents, those that occupy the substrate, they’re just smothered, they’re crushed. It’s like paving them over.” (4) “We don’t bulldoze forests to hunt deer and we shouldn’t destroy the seafloor to catch fish,” Dr. Earle said. “The high seas and all marine ecosystems can and should be managed sustainably, to ensure a future for life in the ocean and the economies that depend upon them.” British Columbia’s Living Oceans Society and Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre, both members of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, invited Dr. Earle to Ottawa. “There is growing support for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling, particularly in the 70% of the ocean where there are no fisheries management bodies responsible for bottom fishing,” said Mark Butler, Managing Director of the Ecology Action Centre. “Last week at the UN Fish Stocks Agreement meeting in New York, new support was voiced from countries such as Brazil and Norway, and the US is working on domestic legislation which will have strong implications for trawling on the high seas.” Within the European Union, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Belgium have all recently made statements in support of a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. (5) “Until effective management regimes are in place on the high seas that ensure the conservation of marine life and marine ecosystems, we need a time-out on bottom trawling” says Jennifer Lash, Executive Director of Living Oceans Society. “The Canadian government must protect the vulnerable and unregulated high seas from this destructive fishing practice.” This year, the UN will be reviewing the action that countries such as Canada have taken since the UN called for urgent action two years ago. Since no plan has been put forward that could be implemented in anything less than a decade, the international conservation community is urging Canada to make 2006 the year it takes leadership and supports the high seas moratorium.
Notes: (1) Sea expert wants moratorium on bottom trawling, Canadian press, 30 May 2006, CTV.ca (2) Dr. Earle is a legendary ocean explorer and marine biologist. She holds several diving records, has served as the leader of more than 60 deep sea expeditions, and is the author of more than 130 scientific, technical and popular publications including the books Exploring the Deep Frontier, Ocean Realm and Sea Change. (3) Dr. Sylvia Earle Engages in High Seas Discussions with Canadian Government, 30 May 2006, joint press release from Conservation International, Living Oceans Society, Ecology Action Centre. Download pdf (4) See (1) (5) Stop the Clocks!