I remember the first time I saw a deep-sea bottom trawler out on the Hatton Bank out in the middle of the Atlantic.  A huge ship with rust spots all along the water line, with a giant winch that wound kilometers of cable.

The vessel was called Ivan Norris, and we got to go on board. The bridge was equipped with space-age equipment for precision-controlling the net to within a meter on the sea bottom at a depth of a kilometer. We got to see the fish processing and the freezing and packaging factory, which was the size of a medium sized butchery works. We observed  how the huge trawl was reeled in, full of half-exploded sea creatures dragged from the sea bottom. We also followed along side the Norris, and later a few other deep sea bottom trawlers, documenting the by-catch shoot – the hole in the hull where all the unwanted fish and other sea creatures were thrown back dead in a never ending stream.

What struck me the most was how amazingly advanced the technology on board was, and how effective the destruction wrought by the trawler was as a result of this.  Two screens on the bridge showed the map of the sea bottom we were travelling over. Overlayed on it were the trawling tracks from previous passes by this ship and others in the fleet.  The Norris was laying a neat new track, right next to the old ones. You could see how the sea bottom was systematically being churned up and crushed by the giant rollers on the bottom trawl, as well as all the fish, crabs, sea corals getting caught up in the giant trawl trailing behind it.  Kind of brought to mind something someone once said: deep sea bottom trawling is not fishing. It’s strip mining.

Once the life in an area of the deep sea has been destroyed it won’t come back. And so the fleets need to move on.

Life in the deep seas is neither easy nor fast paced. The creatures reproduce slowly and live to an advanced age. The orange roughy for example – one of the  species  which was discarded from the Ivan Norris – can live to be over 120 years old, and doesn’t even start to reproduce until it’s in its 40s. It’s not like sardines or herring, where some populations have been fished to near extinctions and  3 years later BOING! They are back to full strength. The deep sea life is not resilient. This means once the deep sea fleets have been through the area – life there is gone. Gone, as in forever.

Ivan Norris

Here comes the ironic part. I kinda presumed that like most environmental destruction – whether it’s rainforest destruction, polluted rivers or destroyed climate - deep sea trawling is a result of greed and profit for corporations, coupled with consumer ignorance or indifference.  Imagine my surprise when I leafed through the recently released Greenpeace report that looks at the economics of the deep sea trawling.

No. There IS NO money in it. It IS an extremely expensive activity. Pricey equipment, special materials for working at extreme depths, giant fuel bills for the travel to and from the far away areas (where they need to go to, since all the in-shore fish stocks are kaput). who pays for thAT? No consumer would pay 50€ a kg for some weird fish species they never heard of. Of course not. So who?

Apparently it’s me (and I don’t even eat fish any more). Yeah. I am paying for it. And so are you, if you pay taxes in Europe.

Bifångst insamlad från Ivan Norris och andra djuphavstrålare.