U.N. Urged to Stop Trawling for Fish
June 8, 2005 â€” For the third year in a row, environmental groups urged an annual U.N. conference on oceans to stop high sea bottom trawling, on Tuesday calling the practice destructive and unsustainable.
Bottom trawling vessels drag their nets along ocean floors, razing the environment by sweeping up coral, fish and other wildlife, much of which is not commercially useable. Critics claim the process is like “mining” an underwater ecosystem, leaving no chance for recovery.
“These are extremely fragile, vulnerable ecosystems,” said Callum Roberts of Deep Sea Conservation Coalition â€” an alliance of 50 environmental groups â€” at a U.N. press conference. “They’re being destroyed today by a very small industry … and no industry should be allowed to do that.”
The coalition estimates there are roughly 250 bottom trawling vessels in deep international waters, but say their impact is devastating because these largely unexplored areas are slow-developing and fish can sometimes live for 150 years.
High sea bottom trawling began in the 1960s when the Soviets discovered valuable fish concentrated around seamounts, said Roberts, but countries whose coastal fish stocks are now being depleted are also exploring these areas.
Roberts warned, however, that high sea bottom trawling would never be sustainable because of the unique nature of the ecosystems.
“If you’re fishing at profitable levels, you’re fishing in the manner of mining a resource â€” removing it with no possibility of recovery,” he said.
Fish caught in the high seas, like the orange roughy, are typically sold at high prices in European, American and Japanese markets, said Karen Sack of Greenpeace International, which reported stopping a bottom trawling vessel from casting its nets in the South Pacific on Tuesday.
Sack said countries like Chile, Norway and Mexico are showing support for a moratorium on high sea bottom trawling, but fishing giant Spain has been a big opponent to a proposed ban.