During the past several decades, it has become possible to plow up deep- sea ecosystems that have existed for millennia, if not longer. Today, as a result, well-capitalized fleets from a handful of wealthier nations1 are destroying some of the planet’s last, most ecologically rich frontiers in search of commercial fish and crustacean species.
Until relatively recently, fishing the deep sea’s rugged floors and canyons was impossible. Advances in bottom trawl technology, however, have put the unreachable within reach. More powerful engines, bigger nets, more precise mapping, more advanced navigational and fish-finding electronics have enabled fishing vessels to drag fishing gear across the ocean bottom as much as two kilometers (1.2 miles) deep. Bottom trawling is, in fact, now the preferred method for fishing the ocean bottom on the high seas, accounting for approximately 80 percent of the total high seas bottom fisheries catch in 2001.