The Arctic Sunrise is back in Amsterdam after almost two months on rough seas off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland, campaigning against one of the most destructive fishing practices in the world: deep sea bottom trawling. Our aim was to expose the two most influential countries in Europe when it comes to fisheries policy; Spain and France, home of the biggest bottom trawling fleets in Europe.
Now is the perfect time to address this malpractice, as the EU is in the process of reforming the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) , the rules which regulate all European fisheries. If we want a future for European seas and for fishing in the coming years, then the CFP must change. It must stop feeding destructive practices and support more sustainable artisanal ones.
High seas bottom trawling is an environmental crime that involves dragging heavy nets and crushing rollers over the sea floor, targeting slow-growing fish which often take decades to reach breeding age. It’s also wiping out the ecosystem, including cold water corals which develop over thousands of years. The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) estimates that 100% of all species taken from deep sea stocks in the North East Atlantic by industrial fishing trawlers are overexploited. Those practices are legal, but they should not be so, considering the damage done.
Bottom trawling is also an economic nonsense. The sector is not an important employer - French deep sea bottom trawlers directly employ only around 150 people at sea, for example- yet it receives substantial subsidies at the taxpayer’s expense. Greenpeace has estimated that the Spanish deep sea bottom trawling fleet received at least €142 million between 1996 and 2010, not counting fuel tax exemptions and other implicit subsidies.
It’s very important for Greenpeace to be a witness on the ground – so to speak, where environment is destroyed. Being at sea on the fishing grounds and taking peaceful direct action, confronting the destructive practices of a handful of industrial vessels, driven by short term economic interests is at the core of what we do to trigger the change.
In that huge sea, you often get the feeling you’re looking for a needle in a haystack…And the swell and the wind often give you the impression that you’re surrounded by walls of sea, especially when you’re in a small inflatable boat.
We took action against three French and one Spanish trawler, in order to stop their fishing operations. We knew that we would not be able to stop them fishing for ever, but out activities will surely create the debate on land, raise the right questions, and help change the rules of the CFP.
And now it’s time for us to continue our campaign on land. 2012 is a crucial year for the future of all European ocean life as well as fishermen. The revision of the CFP only happens once a decade. We need to act now, to work with all artisanal fishermen who have sustainable practices toward a strong Common Fisheries Policy.
François Chartier-French oceans campaigner, onboard the Arctic Sunrise