Thursday, October 25, 2012

941. Industrial Fishing: Scraping the Bottom of the Ocean Smooth

The following is the New York Times October 22, 2012 editorial. Two elements are missing from it. First, that industrial fishing is a capitalist industry driven by insatiable drive for profits. Second, that it should be phased out.  Otherwise, it points to a massive problem facing anyone who cares about biodiversity and health of oceans.  KN

A trawler at the bottom of the sea
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It is hard to grasp just how industrialized commercial fishing has become. You may know about the problems inherent in fish farming. You may have read some of the stunning accounts of work aboard the factory ships that catch, process and freeze fish. But there is no better way to grasp the scale of industrial fishing than to consider the impact of bottom trawling.

According to a new study published in Nature, trawlers are doing more than catching fish. Because they drag huge, heavy nets across the ocean floor, they are reshaping the bottom contours of the busiest fishing grounds. It is the equivalent of plowing a cornfield, with this difference: a farmer plows his own field once a year, but trawlers cover “the same grounds year round on a daily basis.” By disturbing sediment, they are, in essence, smoothing out the sea bottom and reducing its value as habitat. This is occurring, the authors say, not just on relatively shallow continental shelves, but on continental slopes as well.
Heavy trawling takes place all around the world, including off the coasts of the United States. In the scientists’ study area — the Mediterranean Sea near Spain — bathymetric mapping shows the smoothing caused by the steady sifting of sediment, and underwater photographs clearly depict trawler drag marks. In fact, trawlers are shifting as much sediment as naturally occurring underwater landslides. Trawlers working on continental slopes alone cover about half the area of the United States. Globally, trawlers working on all continental shelves and seamounts cover about five times that area.
These estimates are conservative. As the authors note, the regulations governing deep-sea bottom trawling are very weak, and there is a great deal of illegal and underreported fishing going on. Marine life flourishes in complexity, which bottom trawling destroys. It will take strong international regulation, a reduction in European fishing subsidies and heightened consumer awareness in order to limit, if not halt, this disastrous scraping of the seafloor.

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