Bottom trawling

Page - December 18, 2006
Ancient forests in danger ... deep under the ocean. Biologists estimate that somewhere between 500,000 and 5,000,000 marine species have yet to be discovered. But many of these species are in serious danger from the world's most destructive fishing practice - bottom trawling. This is truly the last undiscovered wilderness left on the planet.

Nelson 30-July-2006: Two Greenpeace activists aboard Belize flagged Chinese bottom trawler Chang Xing in Port of Nelson, New Zealand. The two activists along with one other attached to the mooring line stopped the vessel from leaving port.

The deep ocean floor has its own mountains, called seamounts. They rise at least 1,000 metres above the surrounding seafloor. Amazingly, the Earth's longest mountain range is not on land but under the sea - the Mid-Oceanic ridge system, which winds around the globe from the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic. It is four times longer than the Andes, Rockies, and Himalayas combined!

Seamounts are uniquely rich areas of biodiversity. Think colourful forests of attached cold water corals, soft seapens, sponges and seawhips, sea spiders and lobster-like crustaceans. Many seamount-dwelling species are not found anywhere else, and it is believed that some are confined to only one or two individual seamounts!

Number 1 Threat: Bottom Trawling

Unfortunately, the commercial fishing industry has gotten to know about the rich pickings that exist in deep waters. The industry has extended its unsustainable fishing practices into previously unexploited deep waters and seamounts using a technique called bottom trawling.

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path. All evidence indicates that deep water life forms are very slow to recover from such damage, taking decades to hundreds of years - if they recover at all.

In New Zealand waters bottom trawling is used to catch deep sea species such as orange roughy and hoki.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers of the high seas will destroy deep sea species, before we have even discovered much of what is out there. Think of it as driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest and being left with a flat, featureless desert. It's like blowing up Mars before we get there.

Greenpeace expeditions

In the campaign to halt bottom trawling on the high seas Greenpeace went on two expeditions to the high seas in 2004 - one in the Tasman Sea with the Rainbow Warrior and one in the North Atlantic with the Esperanza.