Boulders against bottom trawling

Feature story - 12 August, 2008
The fishing industry seems determined to catch every last fish in the North Sea. The governments of the region and the EU have done little to stop them, but they may soon hit a few snags: a team from Greenpeace Germany and Greenpeace Netherlands has sailed into the German North Sea and begun placing 150 granite rocks on the seabed. They are hoping that the rocks, each weighing 2-3 tonnes and measuring one square cubic metre, will prevent fishing boats from bottom trawling on the Sylt Outer Reef. This highly destructive fishing method involves a net being dragged across the seabed indiscriminately catching everything in its path.

Bottom-trawling boats drag fishing gear weighing several tonnes across the sea bed, destroying fragile underwater ecosystems and decimating fish stocks.

Bottom trawling not only decimates stocks of popular fish, such as sole and plaice, but it also results in a large amount of bycatch - which is thrown back into the sea either dead or dying.

Greenpeace Netherlands and Greenpeace Germany are taking direct action to protect the fragile rocky reef and sandbank habitats and the many species that are dependent on them. The German Government and fishing industry are unwilling to address the ongoing destruction of vulnerable marine habitats and the imminent collapse of North Sea fish stocks.  We hope that fishermen will now steer clear of the Sylt Outer Reef and respect it as a marine reserve.

Globally, fish stocks are in free fall with around 90 percent of predatory species, like tuna, having been wiped out since the 1950s. If we carry on with business as usual, very soon there will be no fish left and no future for the industry. Only in June, scientists warned that cod stocks in the North Sea are so depleted that fishing must be halted altogether.

Incredibly, these warnings have been ignored. Rather than establishing a marine reserve to allow the North Sea to recover, European Ministers continue to bury their heads in the sand and vote to increase catch quotas year after year.

Even in areas recognised for their high ecological importance, such as the Sylt Outer Reef, the destruction continues. Not only is fishing allowed, but also industry extracts vast quantities of sand and gravel, with devastating consequences for marine habitats.

On paper these types of activity shouldn't be happening. The Sylt Outer Reef is protected under European law - designated as a 'Special Area of Conservation' under the EU Habitats Directive. But in reality this protection is worth little more than the paper it is written on.

We are demanding that the German government push the European Commission to put in place new measures to enforce a ban on fishing in the area by the beginning of next year at the latest. We also want the Dutch, Danish and UK governments to support this.

And we want the German government to immediately put a stop to the industrial extraction of sand and gravel in the area by ensuring no new licences are issued.

Ultimately, governments need to establish a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of the world's oceans, including the North Sea.   

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