The day after the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on the Law of the Seas (UNICPOLOS) ends, in a region of international waters described as a marine Jurassic park, Greenpeace captured a New Zealand bottom trawling fishing vessel on video – dragging up and throwing overboard giant, ancient, deep water corals (paragorgia), endangered black coral and a rare species of crab. “Again and again, we have caught the bottom trawling industry red-handed with the evidence of deep sea destruction in their nets. How many more pictures of clearfelled coral forests do governments need to see before they recognise that a moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters is urgently needed?” said Carmen Gravatt, Greenpeace oceans campaigner onboard the Rainbow Warrior during the three-week expedition to document the destructive impacts of deep sea bottom trawling in the Tasman Sea.
At the World Conservation Congress in Bangkok last November, a European industry representative argued, “It is true that trawling for species like orange roughy takes place on undersea slopes, mounds and seamounts. The terrain is sometimes rocky and can be a habitat for cold water corals, but the fishers have modified their fishing techniques to minimise contact with slope surfaces, and also to avoid damaging their fishing gear.” According to DSCC Coordinator Kelly Rigg, “the Greenpeace video shows just how false this claim is.” According to Deep Sea Conservation Coalition member Greenpeace, the bottom trawler Waipori, owned by the Tasman Pacific company operating in international waters of the Tasman Sea near Norfolk Island, seemed to have little fish but a lot of coral and a range of bottom dwelling species in its nets, including a rare crab (Paralomis cf. yaldwyni) that a Waipori crew member waved at the cameras. The director of Amaltal (the company that owns the Ocean Reward, the other New Zealand bottom trawler recently documented by Greenpeace in the Tasman Sea), Andrew Talley has called assertions regarding the damage caused by bottom trawling and its unsustainability, “unsubstantiated claptrap” while industry representatives attending UNICPOLOS tried to convince delegates that bottom trawl nets “fly past” seamounts (underwater mountains), scarcely touching the seabed. These latest photographs and footage add to the already conclusive visual evidence of trawling impact recorded by scientists, not to mention the staggering amount of scientific evidence demonstrating the harmful effects of trawling on the seabed. (1) “If it was on land, this area would be protected as a National Park”, said Gravatt, referring to the West Norfolk Ridge, just over 200 miles off the coast of northern New Zealand where the images were taken. The 2003 scientific NORFANZ expedition surveyed throughout this region and identified it as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’. It has been described as a marine ‘Jurassic Park’ – so ancient are some of the species found there. An intergovernmental working group of the Convention on Biological Diversity is meeting in Italy this week to discuss ways to strengthen protected area systems around the world and will also be looking at the establishment of marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction. (2) Marine and coastal ecosystems are among the most under-represented of the world’s protected areas. Although 71% of the earth is covered in oceans and seas, only about 0.5% of the world’s marine environment is protected. Halting the loss of marine biodiversity as a result of human activities such as deep sea bottom trawling requires extending protection to the 64% of the oceans that are located beyond national jurisdiction. The high seas make up the majority of the world’s oceans and large parts of the high seas are devoid of effective internationally agreed controls for activities such as high seas bottom trawling, making it the single biggest area open to abuse and exploitation. For example, any bottom trawl fishing on the high seas in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Central Atlantic and Southwest Atlantic Ocean is not covered by a regional management organization and, as such, constitutes unregulated high seas fishing. “If governments are seriously interested in preserving biodiversity, they should advocate a UN moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters,” said Gravatt. “It will keep the bottom trawlers away while scientists investigate what exists in these deep sea areas and agreement can be reached over what areas need protection, what can be fished and what fishing method might be acceptable.” “I find it extraodinary that in spite of all of the international concern over the need to protect deep-sea corals, seamounts and other vulnerable deep-water areas on the high seas, fishing vessels are still out there trawling over and destroying these ecosystems,” said Matthew Gianni, political advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “The United Nations General Assembly call for action to protect these ecosystems must be heeded.”
Notes:(1) Page 3, High Seas Bottom Trawl Red Herrings: Debunking Claims of Sustainability, June 200, prepared by the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) for the DSCC, June 2005 (pdf) English | Spanish Videos and photographs of the destructive impacts of deep sea bottom trawling are available from our video section and new photo gallery. In expeditions to the Tasman Sea and North Atlantic, Greenpeace has documented large quantities of coral being brought up in the nets of high seas bottom trawlers, along with huge rocks and endangered black coral, a CITES listed species for over 20 years. (2) Inter-Governmental Working Group meeting will discuss ways to strengthen protected area systems around the globe, CBD press release, 13 June 2005 Special Edition of CBD News: Protected Areas for Achieving Biodiversity Targets, pdf