In the early hours of the morning today Greenpeace activists boarded a deep sea bottom trawler – the Belize flagged Chang Xing – in Port Nelson. The activists have locked themselves to the ship preventing it from leaving port. This action takes place as a UN report confirms that there is an urgent need to protect the deep sea.
The report released two weeks ago the United Nations has finally confirmed what everyone already knew: Measures being taken to protect deep-sea life from destructive fishing practices such as high seas bottom trawling are “woefully inadequate” and “urgent action is required now by the international community”. This was evident in the Tasman sea in 2004 and again in 2005 when the Rainbow Warrior documented bottom trawlers bringing up endangered coral, rocks and all manner of weird and wonderful deep sea creatures as by-catch in international waters.
Two years on, this UN review confirms that deep-sea life and vulnerable habitats like cold water corals are being wiped out by a relatively few number of extremely destructive fishing vessels. That’s two years in which extinctions have almost certainly occurred and vast areas of deep sea ecosystems have been destroyed forever. And two years after the Rainbow warrior highlight the problem in the Tasman Sea. (This map of protected areas (pdf) shows how little of the high seas are actually protected – some areas are mere pin points!) The UN must take the only step which can halt this uncontrolled destruction: establish a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling when the General Assembly (UNGA) meets in October. The New Zealand Government have made positive noises on the issue but have thus far failed to take a strong position.
The UN Review The review was requested by the UN General Assembly in 2005 and was conducted by the UN Secretary General. It is based on submissions by member states reporting on what they have done individually, and as members of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), to stop destructive fishing practices – including bottom trawling – on the high seas. It concluded that, “many fisheries are not managed until they are overexploited and clearly depleted … This raises the question of the urgent need for interim measures in particular circumstances, pending the adoption of conservation and management regimes.” Greenpeace is a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), an alliance of nearly 60 international environmental and conservation organisations who have been campaigning for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling since 2003. The buck stops here Matthew Gianni from the DSCC said, “NGOs, scientists, even governments have repeatedly said that the existing measures are inadequate and that a Review would only confirm this. Sadly it is a Review which has cost the deep oceans two years worth of protection. This must now be the year when the buck passing stops.” If the international community fails to take action to protect the global commons when the evidence is so clearcut, one must seriously call into question its ability to manage other global resources of benefit to all humankind. The negotiations around a moratorium will occur at the UN General Assembly on October 4 and 5 prior to decisions being made in November on a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.