EU, Russia ban some trawling in Northern Atlantic
By Peter McGill
18th November 2004
The European Union and three other nations agreed to prohibit some trawling along the ocean floor in the north-eastern Atlantic to protect vulnerable habitats, the first such ban on the high seas.
Four so-called seamounts and part of an ocean ridge will be closed for three years to bottom fishing, which can destroy a 1,000-year-old coral reef in one trawl, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission said this week at its annual meeting in London. Russia, Norway and Iceland also belong to the group.
Fishermen are using new technology to find and catch fish at ocean depths that were previously inaccessible, after depleting stocks in shallower waters. Little is known about deep-sea habitats, where fish can live as long as 150 years and coral reefs can grow for centuries, the conservation group WWF says.
“We must take a precautionary approach until we get a better sense of what's out there,” Peter Bryant, deputy director of the WWF's global marine program, said in a telephone interview from Gland, Switzerland.
Seamounts are undersea mountains and hills that rise 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) or more above the ocean floor. Norway, which discovered many of the North Atlantic reefs and seamounts during oil exploration, has since joined the EU to finance mapping expeditions using robot probes and manned submarines.
Bottom trawling previously had been banned only within 200 nautical miles of Norway's coastline, in the Darwin Mounds coral area off the coast of Scotland, and in the waters around the Azores.
The United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday refrained from calling for a global ban on bottom trawling. A non- binding resolution on sustainable fisheries said only that the practice is destructive.
Deepwater trawling is “absolutely vital to the fishing fleets” of some EU states, especially Spain, said Guy Vernaeve, secretary-general of the Association of National Organizations of Fishing Enterprises in the EU.
A UN call for a ban on bottom trawling “would be a very dangerous precedent,” Vernaeve said by phone from Brussels. “We have to strike a balance between conservation and the need for a viable fisheries industry.”
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