Blog Tags: Bottom Trawling
In this gorgeous new Oceana video Alexandra Cousteau delves into Monterey Bay to illuminate the diversity of life at the bottom of the ocean, a crucial habitat that is under the constant threat of obliteration from bottom trawling. Using an ROV the camera captures an otherworldly scene, as scallops flutter by and curlicued basket stars unfurl. Armies of shrimp and brittle stars scamper by, fed by the organic matter from above that drifts down the water column like snowfall, sustaining a remarkably rich community. In shallower waters, coral gardens that take hundreds of years to blossom shelter rockfish and ingeniously disguised crabs, and serve as a nursery for dozens of species of fish. Here octopuses go camouflage against the rocky shale, out of sight of the hungry sperm whales and sea lions from above. Anemone-covered spires upwell nutrient rich waters that feed shoals of krill, which in turn feed blue whales. It is an intricately connected ecosystem and it can be destroyed in an instant by bottom trawling. That’s why Oceana has pushed for an end to bottom trawling in ecologically sensitive areas. And that work has paid off in concrete victories: in 2006 NOAA protected 140,000 square miles of Pacific seafloor from the destructive practice, but more needs to be done. For the most part this world goes unseen by human eyes and it’s why Oceana is working laboriously to document these precious areas before they disappear.
Oceana in Chile has been working for several years to keep bottom trawlers out of the most vulnerable marine ecosystems in the nation’s waters.
Back in 2009, we proposed a bill that would close all 118 seamounts in Chile to bottom trawlers, and this week our staff participated in a discussion of the bill by the Chilean Senate’s Fisheries Committee.
Bottom trawling, one of the most destructive forms of fishing, uses a huge, heavy net to scrape the seafloor. Trawlers are indiscriminate, which results in overfishing and the accidental entanglement of animals including sea turtles and marine mammals. And these heavy nets destroy everything in their paths, including coral reefs.
Chile’s seamounts are home to jewel-toned coral reefs and fish, mammals such as fur seals and sea lions, and many more beautiful and unusual creatures. Some of these seamounts are home to species that can be found no where else in the world. Every pass of a bottom trawler turns swaths of these seamounts into barren wastelands.
Oceana’s 2009 proposal would ban bottom trawling on all 118 seamounts until this fishing technique is scientifically proven not to damage the ecosystems in question. Estimates suggest that this ban would have affected only 0.09% of Chile’s seafood exports in 2009.
Alex Muñoz, Oceana’s Vice President for South America, said about the bill, “Protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems that are threatened by trawling not only is important from an ecological point of view but also enhances the productivity of the fisheries that depend on these habitats.”
South America has been making important strides to protect their vulnerable ecosystems. Last year, Chile created a 150,000 square kilometer no-take marine reserve around Sala y Gómez Island and Belize banned bottom trawling throughout its waters.
Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing and health. Today we’re schooling you on bottom trawling.
When you’re enjoying a tasty seafood meal, you’re probably not thinking about habitat destruction and accidentally caught marine animals. (Or at least I hope you’re not, it might give you indigestion.) But unfortunately, in many cases, before seafood gets to your plate, those two things may have been part of the equation.
Take bottom trawling, which is the most destructive commercial fishing method on the planet. Bottom trawlers scrape huge, heavy nets across the seafloor, destroying everything in their path. Trawling destroys more seabed habitat each year than the world’s annual loss of tropical rainforest. One study found that trawling destroys 16 pounds of marine animals for every pound of sole brought to markets.
Trawling is designed to catch as many fish as possible, and is used particularly to target shrimp, cod, haddock, flounder, and rockfish. Dredging, which is a similar practice, is used to catch shellfish like scallops and clams. Currently, more than half the fish eaten in the US is the product of trawling.
Fishermen have been trawling for years, but in the 1980s, technological advances allowed them to begin trawling through coral reefs, which they previously had to avoid to protect their fishing gear.
Unfortunately, we know now the huge damage that even one pass of a trawler can cause reefs. In one study in Alaska, as much as two-thirds of some sponges damaged by one pass of a trawler had not recovered a full year later.
Reefs are an important home for fish, so trawling can also ruin fish stocks into the future – even for responsible and recreational fishermen.
Recently, we’ve seen important measures to stop trawling. Earlier this year, a group of North Pacific nations, including the US, agreed to protect more than 16.1 million square miles of seafloor from trawling. Just a month later, Belize banned trawling from its waters.
We’ve made a lot of progress to stop this destructive fishing method. You can help by paying attention to the seafood you buy. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site to get their guide to sustainable seafood, also available on paper or your smartphone, and tasty recipes to make with these fish.
This is part of a series of ocean infographics by artist Don Foley. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”
Bottom trawls, enormous fishing nets that are dragged across the sea floor, clear-cut everything living in their path. The mouths of the largest nets are big enough to swallow a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, and trawls and dredges can destroy century-old coral reefs in mere moments.
How Extensive is the Damage? (Fig. A)
• The largest deep-sea bottom trawling ships—“supertrawlers” —are 450 feet or longer (the length of 1.5 football fields).
• A large trawler can drag over a half-acre swath of seabed with one pass.
• High-seas bottom trawlers destroy 580 square miles of seabed each day.
• Each year, the world’s fleet of bottom trawlers disturbs a seabed area twice the size of the contiguous United States.
• Deep-sea trawling destroys seabed habitat at a faster rate than the aggregate loss of the world’s tropical rain forests.
• European scientists have calculated that bottom-dragging trawlers in the North Sea destroy 16 pounds of marine animals for every pound of marketable sole that is caught.
Trawler Doors (Fig. B)
Heavy doors keep the mouth of the net open and on the seafloor. Rubber and steel rockhoppers roll across the seafloor, while floats lift open the net above them.
If you can put lipstick on a pig, can you put it on a fish?
The answer is yes, and you can do it for a good cause. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, of which Oceana is a member, is asking people to create funny pictures of fish and send them to the UN Secretary General to get his attention about the need to protect deep-sea species – even if they aren’t cute or cuddly.
As many as 10 million species may inhabit the deep sea, but bottom trawling and other destructive fishing practices are destroying some of the planet's most diverse frontiers. High seas fishing nations have failed to implement UN resolutions to protect deep-sea life from destructive fishing, though they were supposed to comply within two years and five years have passed.
I created the fabulous fish you see here, you should make one too, and spread the word!
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlight: prehistoric hagfish.
Oregon Leg, Day 4
Today we ran the R/V Miss Linda twenty miles west of Bandon, Oregon to Coquille Bank. This offshore bank, also known as the Bandon High Spot, rises up off the continental shelf break to a relatively shallow 300 feet in depth. Oceana worked to protect this area from bottom trawling in 2005. The regulations went into place in 2006 and now five years after the area was protected, we had the chance to dive there with the ROV.
In 2007, Drs. Mark Hixon and Brian Tissot published a scientific paper on the effects of bottom trawling at Coquille Bank. They found striking differences in the seafloor communities between heavily trawled and untrawled areas including more fish abundance and more diversity in the untrawled areas. They also found that bottom trawling affects marine life living in soft sediments and not just rocky seafloor habitats.
After six months of negotiations and with support from Sir Thomas Moore, Oceana bought out the Belize's last two trawlers as part of a government-backed move to ban all forms of trawling in Belizean waters. Belize joins Venezula and Palau as the third country to ban trawling in its waters.
Belize banned trawling back in December and with this final buyout, mid-water and bottom trawling is effectively finished in all Belizean waters, including inland rivers and lagoons.
As part of the buyout, $100,000 is earmarked for micro-loans for local fishermen and $60,000 for disaster relief - and Belize's incredible marine ecosystem is protected! A huge thank you and congratulations to everyone who played a part in this victory!
The U.S. government is nearing the conclusion of international negotiations for the management of fisheries on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean. These quiet talks have been ongoing since April 2006 and are likely to conclude this week, which has huge implications for the oceans and Oceana’s work in the region.
Oceana has been participating in these meetings as a member of the U.S. delegation since 2007. Oceana’s Pacific Project Manager, Ben Enticknap, is at this week’s meeting in Vancouver, Canada, working to expand Oceana’s approach to freeze the footprint of bottom trawling and protect important ecological areas to international waters.
The negotiations are between the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) and are seeking to establish a new fishery management organization to sustainably manage fisheries on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean, as well as to establish interim measures to protect “vulnerable marine ecosystems” like seamounts, deep-sea corals, sponges and hydrothermal vents from destructive fishing practices.
The Gulf of Mexico is threatened by more than just offshore drilling. Industrial fishing has destroyed many habitats already, as our team saw yesterday. Here's Dustin's update from the Latitude:
A recent story by the Associated Press revealed that there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these wells are believed to still be leaking oil into the Gulf.
Oceana sent its ROV from Chile down (approximately 90 feet to the seafloor) today off the coast of Alabama to investigate an abandoned oil well that began drilling in 1981.
Oceana was unable to find any infrastructure from the abandoned well. However, the ROV did allow us to see the result of using destructive fishing gear in the area. The sea floor at this location was leveled. Trawls appeared to have bulldozed everything in their path, leaving only broken shells and a few remaining fish and sea stars.
Here's Oceana's ROV operator and science director for Chile Matthias Gorny:
In a definitive victory for the Arctic, the government released final regulations protecting almost 200,000 square miles of U.S. Arctic waters from industrial fishing.
The new regulations, which close all U.S. waters north of Alaska’s Bering Strait to commercial fishing, will be effective starting December 3, 2009. The closure will allow for more time to assess the health of Arctic ocean ecosystems and the potential impacts of large-scale fishing given the impacts the Arctic is already facing from climate change and ocean acidification.
And don't forget the looming threat of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. Last month the government approved a plan for drilling in the Beaufort Sea next summer, and a similar plan for the Chukchi Sea is currently under review with a decision expected this month.
Conservationists, scientists, and local communities agree that the science-based precautionary approach we have achieved with industiral fishing should be replicated with oil, especially given the higher risks of oil spills in the Arctic and the inability to contain, control or clean up an accident in the icy waters of the Arctic.
Congratulations to everyone who helped make this happen!
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