How Europe has a chance to ban the most destructive fishing gear of all times: deep-sea bottom trawling.
A handful of industrial ships mainly from France and Spain are destroying the deep waters of the UK, which form part of the largest reservoir of species on Earth. Fishing vessels are wiping off the map deepwater corals and sponge beds thousands of years old as they chase a few deepwater fish known to be extremely vulnerable to overfishing because they are long-lived, slow-growing and late at reproducing. Deep-sea fisheries are mainly conducted with deep-sea trawls, which are huge, heavily ballasted fishing nets that rake the seabed at depths of up to 1,600 metres or more, leaving only destruction in their wake.
Some deepwater corals have been recently aged at more than 4,000 years, making them the planet’s oldest living animals. Uprooting corals with trawlnets and dumping them off the side of the ship as ocean waste is akin to exhuming Egyptian mummies and disposing of them as garbage.
It’s a crime.
Today, this unique heritage is bulldozed in seconds by giant bottom trawlers in the pursuit of a few edible fish that no one really wants or needs. Deep-sea fisheries represent only 1% of fish landings in the EU and they wouldn’t exist if they weren’t subsidised by taxpayers. Oil subsidies provide the financial incentive for industrial-scale ships to pillage the most vulnerable habitats and species the planet possesses.
In blatant ignorance of science and oblivious to common sense, deep-sea bottom trawling – or “bulldozing,” as it should be more appropriately called – goes on with the complicity of our governments and our own support! Every one of us is paying for ships to go out and destroy our planet’s last pristine wilderness, and is thus contributing to an unprecedented “oceanocide”, the largest and fastest ecological crime of all times.
This oceanocide becomes even more tragic when we understand that it is occurring during the sixth mass extinction, the most severe life crisis our planet has gone through in the past 500 million years. This means that what disappears today will not come back. Time to think that some things on Earth are worth more alive than dead, if only for the services they render for our ecosphere.
Deep-sea trawl fisheries benefit no one and cost us all. The deepwater fauna helps balance ecosystems and offers a mind-boggling laboratory of genetic resources that already provide tangible medical solutions for fighting cancer and other diseases. Destroying this unique reservoir of species is a straightforwardly bad idea.
Today, Europe has a chance to eliminate what scientists have called “the most destructive fishing gear in history”. In 2012 the European Commission proposed to ban deep-sea bottom trawling. This is the most efficient way to protect the UK’s marine heritage, which no one will be able to replace when it’s gone.
Because the devastation occurs out of sight, citizens are largely unaware of this unprecedented large-scale destruction of our oceans. This ignorance lets the industrial fishing companies that have organised a ferocious defence of their interests off the hook. And the ugliest part is: politicians are helping them.
So far, the UK government is even opposing the ban although the UK does not have ships that specialize in targeting deepwater fish like the French and Spanish do in British waters, especially around Scotland, to target a handful of deep-sea species, catching and throwing away up to 100 other animal species in the process, including critically endangered deepwater sharks.
There is not a single reason for the UK government to defend foreign vessels wrecking its heritage. Not one.
Banning deep-sea bottom trawling will not affect any businesses but in the longer run, it will protect the UK fishing industry by making the oceans around the British Isles more productive for future generations of fishermen.
More than 300 scientists have called on governments to support the phase out of deep-sea bottom trawling. What more does the British government need to act on this absurdity? To know that we care. So let’s make sure it knows we want it to protect the UK’s natural capital from short-sighted destruction.
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Image copyright: © The Mountains-in the Sea Research Team