Blog Tags: Bottom Trawling
Cod, flounder, and halibut make delicious seafood, but they’re often not sustainably harvested. In fact, they’re likely caught with one of the most destructive types of fishing gear: bottom trawls. These large, heavy nets are dragged across large areas of seafloor, and inevitably clear-cut everything in their path.
I have great news about two important new campaign victories in Europe: Portugal and Spain will now protect more than 2 million square kilometers of seafloor habitat from destructive fishing gears.
In a remarkable effort to protect its waters, the Portuguese government issued a decree prohibiting deep-sea fishing in an area spanning 2,280,000 square kilometers. Even though the decree exempts longlining, which is authorized under certain conditions, it is an immensely significant step in protecting deep-sea species and ecosystems.
Deep ocean species grow slowly and produce few offspring, making them very vulnerable to overfishing. But the European Union fleet in the North-East Atlantic fishes down to depths of 1,500 meters, using bottom-fishing gear that destroys thousand-year-old corals and sponge beds. Even more worrying, up to 80 percent of trawl catches are discarded and thrown away.
Rainbow colored tropical fish, jumping dolphins, and incredible sea turtles are often what comes to mind when thinking of the oceans. The deep sea, dark and less colorful, but possibly even more awe-inspiring, can sometimes be ignored since it is so far below our world. That may be why, in the European Union (EU), the main regulation to manage fisheries occurring in this fragile world have not been updated since 2002.
We are excited to share some great news out of our international offices – Costa Rica has banned the use of trawl nets to catch shrimp throughout the country! Trawl nets destroy our oceans -- ripping up the seafloor, razing coral reefs, and catching huge amounts of marine creatures as bycatch – so this ruling is a major victory for our oceans. It’s estimated that 871,000 tons of bony fishes, sharks, and rays were caught in Costa Rica as incidental bycatch of shrimp trawling between 1950 and 2008.
On Thursday, six skate nurseries in Alaska’s Bering Sea were designated as “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.” Skates are a member of the ray family, and live on the seafloor. The designation requires consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service before activities such as offshore oil and gas development can take place.
The protected nurseries are six of only 13 or 14 total sites in the Bering Sea where skates lay their leathery egg cases, commonly known as mermaid’s purses, in deep submarine canyons. Skate eggs take three years hatch, making them extremely vulnerable to seafloor destruction.
With over 200 species of skate around the globe, they are part of the ancient family that includes sharks and rays. While the family has survived many mass extinctions, including those that killed the dinosaurs, they have not evolved to survive the dramatic impacts of humans on their habitat. Many species, including the common skate, have been dangerously overfished, and the nurseries in the Bering Sea are critical to the continued survival of skates in the North Pacific.
As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, we’d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.
Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor, causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world. Although some of Chile’s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the country’s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chile’s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.
In the past few weeks Oceana's Ranger expedition has been exploring a series of underwater mountains 130 miles West of Portugal known as the Gorringe bank. Formed along with the Atlantic Ocean as Pangaea pulled apart 145 to 155 million years ago, the Gorringe bank juts from depths of as much as 16,000 feet to only 100 feet below the surface. These underwater mountain ranges are a hotspot for marine life, as nutrient rich water upwells to the seamount peaks.
Closer to the surface a familiar parade of whales, dolphins, swordfish and barracuda visit lush kelp forests, while shearwaters and petrels circle above. As you dive deeper though, as the Ranger expedition has with its underwater robot (ROV), you enter a somewhat stranger world, but one that is no less diverse. This is the domain of the dragon fish, the fan corals, the otherworldly deep-sea sharks, the churlish-looking pink frogmouth and still more species unknown to science. Other animals are ambassadors of the deep, patrolling up and down the seamounts in search of prey
“During last year’s expedition we found some new species whose existence in the Gorringe was unknown, such as branching black coral, hydrocoral, dogfish, bird’s nest sponge, and various gorgonia”, says Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana in Europe. “There are dozens of species which have not been identified yet. We hope that they will provide new data on these ecosystems, and facilitate the protection and conservation of this unique enclave.”
Unfortunately, as the ranger expedition has also discovered, this habitat is also home to an increasing amount of trash, especially abandoned fishing gear.
By documenting and exploring habitat, Oceana is gathering data about this unique ecosystem that will be crucial in formulating conservation plans that will hopefully protect the area from malign human influences like pollution and bottom trawling.
Prepare to witness what has to be one of the strangest animals on planet Earth. Behold: the Pacific barreleye. As this video shot by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute demonstrates, NASA need not look to the heavens to find aliens. 2,000 feet deep in the Pacific ocean lurks this otherworldly creature inside whose bizarre transparent head, more colorfully described as a "cockpit" by some scientists, is a set of extremely sensitive tubular eyes, from which it derives its name.
Those eyes are capped by stunning green lenses, pointed ever upward to spot bioluminescent prey and faint silhouettes in the deep sea (the dark eye-like spots on the front of the fishes head are, in fact, olfactory organs). The barreleye is thought to steal food from siphonophores, a group of colonial jellyfish-like animals, and the transparent dome above its eyes provides protection from their stinging tentacles.
Like much life in the deep, extremely little was known about this fish until researchers came upon this specimen off of Central California. Bottom trawling and deep sea fisheries are quickly destroying deep sea habitat before scientists have the opportunity to study the fascinating animals that call this poorly understood region home. Who knows what other strange creatures await discovery in the deep?
- CEO Note: Progress for Sharks Posted Fri, August 15, 2014
- Photos: Oceana’s Balearic Expedition Confirms Need for Expanded Marine Protected Areas Posted Tue, August 19, 2014
- Video: Meet Some of the Most Famous Satellite Tagged Sharks Posted Thu, August 14, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: New Coral Reef Species Discovered, Seals Found to Spread Tuberculosis 6,000 Years Ago, and More Posted Thu, August 21, 2014
- Ocean News: New Minke Whale Foraging Patterns Discovered, Google Street View Takes on the Florida Keys, and More Posted Mon, August 18, 2014