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Five tons of net removed from bay
By Jan TenBruggencate Science Writer

Honolulu Advertiser

20th November 2004
Divers who specialize in marine debris collected more than 5 tons of rope and net from a massive tangle on a north Kane'ohe Bay reef Thursday and yesterday — much of it scrap net from the trawl fisheries of the North Pacific.

Ocean floor trawling is under increasing scrutiny for its destruction of the ocean floor, but in Hawaiian waters, the major impact is the drifting net — either directly ripped out or cut out of trawl nets during repairs.

The United Nations General Assembly has urged fishing nations to study the impacts of trawling operations and to consider temporary bans on the practice of trawling, but many environmentalists say any halt should be permanent.

"I'm disappointed to be honest, because bottom trawling is the world's most destructive method of fishing and we have documented this beyond a reasonable doubt," said Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, in Redmond, Wash. Environmental groups say an area of ocean floor twice the size of Europe has been destroyed by trawling.

Bottom trawlers are powerful boats that drag behind them giant nets equipped with wheels, chains and metal doors. The heavy equipment bulldozes its way across the sea floor to scoop up fish, and in the process it rips up coral beds.

Often, nets rip on the ocean bottom. Marine debris experts have identified scrap from trawl net as a significant portion of the drifting marine debris that litters the ocean surface. While there, the floating masses of webbing, snag passing lengths of rope, cargo netting, gill netting and other material. These accumulated conglomerations of synthetic fibre can entangle seals, turtles, fish and sea birds.

And when they come ashore, as the Kane'ohe netting did, they catch on the near-shore coral reef. Divers in Kane'ohe said they found large coral heads lodged in the bundle of netting.

State coral reef biologist Dave Gulko said the net had a bulldozing effect on the reef.

Divers from the NOAA Fisheries Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, other NOAA Fisheries personnel and officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources worked for two full days Thursday and yesterday to cut the more than 10,000 pounds of netting into manageable chunks.

The netting will be processed for burning in O'ahu's H-Power trash-to-energy plant. Department of Land and Natural Resources public information officer Deborah Ward said that while the big pieces had been removed, there were still numerous small bits of rope and netting in holes on the reef. She said divers would be back Monday to complete their cleanup.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at or (808) 245-3074