Bottom trawling: how to empty the seas in just 150 years

Date: February 10, 2019

Source: The Guardian
Author: Robin McKie

I believe there is not a portion of the ground but what the trawl destroys,” explained G Cormack, a fisherman from Torry, Aberdeen. “I have dragged 50 miles off Aberdeen. I have got fast there and brought up coral about 2.5ft in circumference, lumps of soft coral, and I am prepared to say that whatever is in the way of the trawler will not escape.”

It is a stark description of the damage inflicted by “bottom trawling”, the practice of dragging heavily weighted nets across the seafloor to sweep up fish – like cod and haddock – that thrive there. And it is all the more alarming for having been voiced almost 150 years ago. Cormack was giving evidence in 1866 to a royal commission on the impact of bottom trawling, which expanded massively in British waters from the beginning of the 19th century. Traditional fishers opposed bottom trawling, not just because they thought it damaged the seabed by ripping up coral, oyster beds and sponges, but because they believed it wiped out fish stocks. “Twenty years ago, we used to get 600 or 700 a head of fish a day,” said another commission witness, B Simpson, a line-fisherman who worked off Spurn Point, Grimsby. “Now they cannot get above 20 head, or three or four score at the outside.”

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