Refuting bottom trawl claptrap

Feature story - 17 November, 2006
The bottom trawling industry is trying to muddy the waters enough to keep the UN from passing a moratorium. In the process they are saying some absolutely ridiculous stuff.

Before and after view of bottom trawling.

Here are a few of their worst falsehoods:

"There is zero scientific evidence, not one shred of scientific evidence, that these fisheries do any damage to the bottom environment whatsoever."

-- John Risley, chairman of the Canadian company Clearwater Seafoods.

   (reported by the CBC, 15 November 2006)

Our response:

There is actually an overwhelming about of evidence that bottom trawling is an extremely destructive form of fishing.

1,452 scientists from 69 countries have signed a statement calling on governments and the United Nations to adopt a moratorium

on high seas bottom trawling.

The statement starts:  "As marine scientists and conservation biologists, we are profoundly concerned that human activities, particularly bottom trawling, are causing unprecedented damage to the deep-sea coral and sponge communities on continental plateaus and slopes, and on seamounts and mid-ocean ridges."

Full statement can be found here.

To quote one Canadian scientist:

"Deep-sea corals and sponges are crucial habitat elements for seafloor species," Dr Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada, told BBC News at the AAAS gathering.

"Allowing trawling in coral 'forests' is the worst thing we are doing in the ocean today. It should be stopped immediately until scientists can determine whether trawling in the deep sea can be justified anywhere."

(As reported by the BBC, 16 February 2004)

If you would rather believe your own eyes

than the scientific experts, thanks to an Icelandic trawler captain we have  underwater video of a bottom trawling.  Watch his reaction when he sees what bottom trawling is doing to the seabed:

If that's not enough, here's footage of a New Zealand bottom trawler throwing coral back overboard. (Windows Media Player)

Dead coral thrown back.

And here's a giant piece of coral dragged up by a bottom trawl net being dumped overboard. ( Click for larger.)

Also worth seeing is this BBC report about deep-sea corals and bottom trawling. (Link in upper right.)

"We are not in any way blocking a consensus."

-- Lori Ridgeway, director general of policy affairs

    Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans

    (Reported in various Canadian new sources, example)

Our response:

Canada and Spain (through its choke hold on the EU position) are the two key countries blocking a UN consensus for a moratorium on bottom trawling.  See our league table for where other countries stand. 

Countries on team Ocean Defenders have publicly committed to a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.

See also our " Canada and bottom trawling talking points".

A moratorium would be "unenforceable".

-- Canadian Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn

   ( reported in Canadian press, example)


Our response:

The argument that laws shouldn't be made because someone will break them, is absurd. 

In fact, a blanket moratorium would be one of the easier approaches when it comes to enforcement because there is no ambiguity.  A ship is either bottom trawling or it is not; it is either in the high seas or it is not. 

There are only a few hundred of bottom trawling vessels

in the world - taking only 0.5 percent of the global marine catch (by value, according to the UNEP).  It is a sorry state of affairs if the world's combined fisheries management agencies are not up to the task of enforcing this moratorium.

Canada and Spain have both helped enforce a ban on high seas driftnet fishing since 1993.


Of course, the moratorium should be coupled with a call for the rapid development of monitoring, surveillance and enforcement measures to ensure that legally caught fish are able to be tracked and monitored and that fish without such cannot be landed.

What's at stake

Some bottom trawling proponents would lead us to believe there are no vulnerable ecosystems at risk.  That there is only "a platform of sand" being trawled over. 

The reality is there are vital and vulnerable ecosystems needing our protection, but we don't even know where most of them are.  Ninety percent our oceans are unexplored.

But to give you an idea of the stakes, here are a few pictures of what's already been discovered...

Blame España!

Tell Spain and the EU to support the moratorium!

Blame Canada!

Tell Canada to support the moratorium!