Greenpeace builds shield against bottom trawling in the North Sea

Vessel places granite boulders on seabed to protect reef

Press release - August 12, 2008
Greenpeace activists aboard the Beluga II sailed into the German North Sea today and began placing over 150 granite rocks, each weighing 2-3 tonnes, on the seabed. The aim is to stop fishing in an area which on paper is protected under European law.

Greenpeace activists aboard the Beluga II sailed into the German North Sea today and began placing over 150 granite rocks, each weighing 2-3 tonnes, on the seabed. The aim is to stop fishing in an area which on paper is protected under European law. 

The Sylt Outer Reef is home to an abundance of sea life and is a popular fishing ground. Although the reef is designated as a 'Special Area of Conservation' by the EU, highly destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling and sand and gravel extraction are permitted. This is decimating the marine life that inhabits the area, including well known fish species such as plaice and sole, and destroying the reef.

By strategically placing granite rocks, Greenpeace intends to protect this ecologically diverse area from destructive practices including bottom trawling.

Greenpeace Germany oceans campaigner, Dr Iris Menn said:

"The fishing industry is not only pushing many fish species to the point of collapse, but also their own future. If they carry on emptying the oceans of sea life then very soon there will be nothing left for them to fish.

"We need the Sylt Outer Reef to truly be protected - and not just on paper. That means an enforceable ban on fishing and sand and gravel extraction in the area to create an effective marine reserve. Only this will give the area a chance to recover after decades of exploitation."

Greenpeace is calling on the German government to press the European Commission to implement new measures which will prohibit fishing in the area by the beginning of next year at the latest, and is calling on the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK to support this. Greenpeace is also demanding that the latter also takes steps to complete its own network of marine reserves.

Dr Menn continued:

"If the German government is not going to honour its commitments and give the Sylt Outer Reef the protection it so badly needs, then it is up to Greenpeace to act. By placing these rocky obstacles to stop trawling in the area, we are sending a clear message - that business as usual cannot continue."

Most of the world's governments have promised to create a network of marine reserves by 2012 as part of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Under the EU Habitats Directive, all EU member states are bound by law to establish a network of protected areas.

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of our oceans including the North Sea as an essential way to protect our seas from the ravages of climate change, restore the health of fish stocks, and protect ocean life from habitat destruction and collapse.

Other contacts: Greenpeace campaigners aboard the Beluga II - Dr Iris Menn and Pavel Klinckhamers can be contacted on sat. phone 00 88 16 214 17 778. Greenpeace Netherlands press officer, Andre van der Vlugt, tel: +31 62 503 1015.Greenpeace Germany oceans campaigner, Thilo Maack, tel: +49 171 8780 841.

VVPR info: Photos are available from Greenpeace picture desk at 00 49 40 3 06 18 377For footage (available from 15.00 CET onwards) please phone 00 40 40 6579 6223

Notes: The Sylt Outer Reef is one of the few stone reef areas in the North Sea and is home to a diverse range of marine species, including animals that live on the stones to fish species like the endangered twaite shad and river lamprey. The area is known as an important breeding and nursery area for the harbour porpoise and is also an important feeding ground for both common seals and grey seals. The harbour porpoise population is one of the most threatened species of cetacean (whales and dolphins) in Europe and giving protection to this species is one of the primary objectives for this designated area.Bottom trawling involves dragging a net with heavy chains along the seabed. It is one of the most destructive fishing methods - physically disturbing the seafloor and typically results in high levels of bycatch. For example, when fishing for sole and plaice, as much as 80 percent of the catch can be bycatch. This unwanted marine life is then thrown over board dead or dying.