Is the end of bottom trawling in sight?

Is the end of bottom trawling in sight?
bottom trawling traces

Satellite image of trawlers off the Louisiana coast undertaking bottom trawling. Stirred up sediments show the ships routes.

One of the most destructive types of fishing is bottom-trawling. Heavy nets roll across the sea bed destroying everything in their paths. It’s destruction of habitat on a massive scale that would cause an outcry if it occurred on land. But now the European Union (EU) could be about to ban its fishing fleet from bottom trawling in a ground-breaking move.

The EU fleet is the biggest bottom trawling fleet in the world. But it does not just catch commercial fish. Anything that gets in the path of the drag net gets scooped up – sponges, corals, shellfish all gets ripped apart as the heavy beams and nets get dragged across the sea floor. [pullquote]We congratulate Commissioner Damanaki on her leadership today in proposing a thorough overhaul of the management of deep-sea fisheries and taking the first step towards phasing out one of the most destructive fishing practices in use today.[/pullquote]

The new proposals by the EU released today will see the phasing out of bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting in the deep-sea fishing fleets operating in the North Atlantic. 

While some countries ban bottom trawling in their own coastal territorial waters these new EU regulations would ban EU registered trawlers from bottom trawling in unprotected international waters.

The EC Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has decided to put forward the proposals after marine ecologists highlighted that this system of trawling is the greatest threat to deep-sea eco-systems. Many of these deep-sea communities are diverse and are thought to contain  undiscovered species that are new to science.

While Commissioner Damanaki has put the proposals together and calling for tighter action, they still have to go before the European Parliament and EU member state fisheries ministers before they become law.

The Pew Environment Group has congratulated Damanaki for her step. “We congratulate Commissioner Damanaki on her leadership today in proposing a thorough overhaul of the management of deep-sea fisheries and taking the first step towards phasing out one of the most destructive fishing practices in use today,” commented Matthew Gianni, policy advisor to the Pew Environment Group and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “It is now up to EU fisheries ministers and the European Parliament to show similar resolve by adopting legislation to implement the Commissioner’s proposal and put an end to destructive deep-sea fishing practices.

If the EU deep-sea fishing fleet were to stop bottom trawling it would have an immediate impact on the sea-floor environment. Its fishing fleet accounts for more than 75% of the worlds deep-sea catch. France and Spain are the two principal EU countries with bottom trawling operations.

If the Commission proposal is adopted, it would transform the EU into a global defender of deep-sea marine life by protecting vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems from the harmful impacts of destructive bottom fishing,” continued Gianni.

While Pew recognises the advance forward taken by the EU by putting these proposals together they believe it’s possible for the EU to go further and firmly entrench itself as the world’s leader for protection of sea-bed ecosystems.  The Pew Environment Group are calling on the commissioner to:

  • requiring impact assessments for all deep-sea fisheries, not just new fisheries;
  • requiring closure of deep-sea areas to fishing where vulnerable marine species are known or likely to occur unless these areas can be managed to prevent significant adverse impacts;
  • and requiring that all catch, including bycatch, be sustainable; and that all bycatch be landed unless there is adequate justification (e.g. high survival potential) for throwing catch back. 

External sites:

EU: Establishing specific conditions to fishing for deep-sea stocks in the North-East Atlantic and provisions for fishing in international waters of the North-East Atlantic and repealing Regulation(EC) No 2347/200 (pdf)

Pew Environment Group: EU Commission makes history…

 

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