A coalition of the world’s top environmental groups sharply criticized the United Nations General Assembly today for failing to put a temporary halt to the most destructive commercial fishing practice on Earth and a serious threat to fish populations and deep ocean habitat: industrial bottom trawling on the high seas.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (www.savethehighseas.com) is demanding that the U.N. General Assembly impose a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.
U.N. General Assembly delegates are scheduled to vote Nov. 16 on Oceans and Fisheries resolutions that the Coalition dismissed as too weak to offer protection and too ineffective to control the plunder of deep ocean habitat.
“The U.N. General Assembly had a unique opportunity to put some teeth in the law that governs the world’s oceans, but instead they chose to produce weak and ineffective resolutions for high seas protection,” said Mike Hirshfield, chief scientist and vice president for North America for Oceana, one of 28 environmental groups worldwide in the Coalition. “As Arvid Pardo, the primary author and advocate of the Law of the Sea, put it, the oceans themselves, as much as the resources that can be taken from them, are the common heritage of mankind.”
The Coalition spoke on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty that for the first time brought the promise of coordinated management to the world’s oceans. But the treaty, considered a progressive document in its time, failed to anticipate the devastation that industrial bottom trawling would bring to deep ocean habitats.
Industrial bottom trawls fish in the deep ocean using gargantuan nets – two Boeing 747s can fit side-by-side inside one of them – weighed down by steel doors that weigh in the tons. The nets are dragged along the ocean bottom, mowing down everything in their path, erasing in minutes thousand-year-old corals and sponges. They often destroy the very habitats that may support the commercial fish they seek, in effect fishing themselves out of business.
“Once again the international community has opted for talking over action. Countless species, some as yet unknown to science, will be lost as a result,” said Matthew Gianni, the Coalition’s political advisor.
Despite the U.N.’s failure to take forceful action at this year’s General Assembly, the Coalition says that there is cause for optimism in the coming year.
“The tide is definitely turning. This is no longer a minor issue which can be ignored. Several nations fought long and hard to secure real protection for the habitats at risk, most notably Norway, New Zealand and Costa Rica,” Gianni added. “The very fact that the issue dominated the discussions gives us real hope for progress to be made ahead of the General Assembly in 2005.”
With plans already afoot to continue its campaign in 2005, the Coalition pointed to the main obstacles to progress: “Iceland and the EU led by Spain, are responsible for the U.N.’s failure this year,” said Gianni. “Throughout the negotiations, their stance was clear and we will be talking to them, and to their publics, about this issue in 2005.”
The Fisheries resolution which goes before the U.N. General Assembly Nov. 16 explicitly acknowledges the threat posed to deep sea ecosystems by bottom trawling, but does not call for collective or decisive action by the international community to prevent further damage. The Fisheries resolution only calls on countries individually or through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to take action. The Oceans resolution calls for the establishment of a Working Group to “study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.”