High seas trawling threatens giant squid

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Posted by . on June 05, 2004 at 02:29:34:

Giant squid and sea spiders are among thousands of prehistoric and undiscovered species under threat from a deep-sea fishing method known as bottom trawling which drags nets across the ocean floor and smashes everything in its path, Greenpeace warned today.

Scientists are particularly concerned about the impact on deep-sea mountains or 'seamounts', which support a range of species not found anywhere else on the planet. Greenpeace has today called for an immediate moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas as policy makers prepare to convene in New York (7th-11th June) to discuss threats to marine life in international waters. Over 1000 marine scientists have also called for action on bottom trawling.

There are more maps of the moon than of the deep oceans. Scientists have only studied a tiny fraction of the estimated 50 000 seamounts worldwide which are under serious threat from deep sea fishing fleets dragging giant fishing nets fitted with chains and rollers across the sea floor.

The nets are held open by huge heavy steel doors weighing as much as 10 tonnes. Bottom trawlers fish one seamount after another in the search for deep water fish like the Orange Roughy which has a lifespan of up to 150 years and is sold in British fishmongers and supermarkets.

The Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior is currently investigating bottom trawling in the waters around New Zealand. Ancient seamounts have also been discovered in the North East Atlantic and the Azores.

Greenpeace campaigner Simon Reddy said, "More people have been into space than into the dark depths of the oceans. Scientists say there could be as many as 5 million species in our oceans we've never discovered. Destroying seamounts is like blowing up Mars before we get a chance to explore it.

We could be wiping out millions of unknown and prehistoric creatures that could help provide cures for diseases or teach us about the origins of life on this planet, just so we can put ever more exotic fish on our plates"

Seamounts trap nutrients in the ocean currents, which create hot spots of marine life. They provide food for thousands of species including fish, seabirds, dolphins and sharks but are also home to prehistoric creatures like the giant squid.

Seamounts are often covered by cold water coral forests, some of which are several thousands of years old and will probably never recover from the damage caused by bottom trawling. Scientists estimate that 15% of all species on seamounts are not found anywhere else on the planet.

Most of the destruction takes place in international waters with no regulation of the fishing boats. The fishing fleets devastate one area after another and then move onto new grounds in their quest for fish.

New Zealand pioneered the technology, and having trawled 80% of their underwater mountains to some degree they have moved to fishing grounds in the high seas off New Zealand, South Africa, the Azores and Northern Europe.

Fishing boats from Spain, Portugal, Japan, France, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Iceland, Norway and Denmark are also all involved in high seas bottom trawling.

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