The cod is gone: the rest is next

Feature story - 26 July, 2005
We've taken our call for a United Nations moratorium on high-seas bottom trawling to Halifax, Canada, where we've asked the Prime Minister to take a lead role at the United Nations in stopping one of the most destructive fishing methods ever invented.

The Esperanza will bear witness to deep sea destruction off Canada's coast.

Just beyond the 200-mile limit of Canada's waters, an estimated 60percent of the world's high-seas bottom trawling takes place. 

Bottomtrawling is the equivalent to clear-cutting the ocean floor: giantnets, the size of football pitches are weighted across the bottom withheavy steel rollers that indiscriminately smash and crush cold-watercorals, sponge forests, and other bottom-dwelling life, swallowingeverything in their path. 

The fish these trawlersare seeking are only a small fraction of the life they destroy --unwanted "bycatch" is simply thrown overboard.  Imagine using abulldozer to destroy an entire forest just to catch a few rabbits:that's the kind of indiscriminate destruction we're talking about.

Thedestruction of deep-sea life in international waters off the east coastof Canada is especially troubling because, unlike most otherinternational waters, there is a regulatory body in place to regulatehigh-seas bottom trawling in that area: NAFO, the North AtlanticFisheries Organisation.

But according to Bruce Cox, ExecutiveDirector of Greenpeace Canada, NAFO "is bound by red tape, has littlepunishment for member countries... and it turns a blind eye frequentlyto infractions of their own rules."

A highly critical Greenpeace reportcites failure after failure by the regulatory body to stop overfishingand destructive fishing practices: the collapse of Canada's codfisheries in 1992 is the most infamous example.

"Without radicalchanges, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations such as NAFO willbe unable to protect deep sea biodiversity and will continue tostruggle to sustainably manage their fisheries," said Martin Willison,a marine scientist at Dalhousie University.

Canadian Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan responded to the report by telling The Canadian Pressthat "NAFO needs to change," but he stopped short of committing toadvocate for a moratorium on high-seas bottom trawling. He doesn't seemto think that any fishing method is inherently destructive -- perhapshe should look at the huge 500 year-old piece of coral we documentedbeing pulled up in the nets of a New Zealand bottom trawler just lastmonth.

"Countrieslike Costa Rica, Germany, Chile, Austria, Belgium have all moved towardthe call for a moratorium on high-seas bottom trawling," notes ourOceans Campaigner Bunny McDiarmid. "Even the fishing industry itselfconcedes that this is the most damaging of all fishing methods."

Wethink Canada should rethink its position. And we're sending theGreenpeace ship Esperanza to the Grand Banks to show the Canadianpublic precisely why.

You can follow the efforts of the Esperanzaover the next few weeks as the ship documents the destruction, bychecking in on the  Defending the Deep Shipblog.

But in the meantime, please join the call for a moratorium on high-seas bottom trawling. Give bottom trawlers the (fish) finger.

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