UN fails to act on a Bottom Trawling Ban

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Posted by on December 05, 2006 at 09:58:29:

The controversial and recently high-profile practice of bottom trawling escaped condemnation on 23 November in the United Nationsí annual ocean fisheries resolution. Conservation groups had been pushing for an international ban on the fishing gear in international waters, but the General Assembly committee that drafted the resolution eventually omitted the ban under pressure from fishing nations such as Iceland. Ten other countries have little regulated high-seas bottom trawling fleets: Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia and Spain.

In the wake of buyouts of California bottom-trawling permits by The Nature Conservancy, small boat operators have struggled to distinguish the effects of their limited ground fishing from those of industrial-scale open ocean trawlers. These fishermen are quick to point out that the economic damage to coastal communities resulting from trawling bans outweighs the damage to ocean habitat created by their nets. High seas trawlers, on the hand, have far more impact. Nevertheless, Pacific groundfish trawling is an industry in rapid decline and many predict the industry will be completely wiped out within the next few decades due to growing marine reserves and other restrictions.

Three quarters of the high seas - defined as areas outside the 200-mile economic exclusion zone surrounding sovereign coastlines - is unrestricted by international treaties. Studies have determined that dragging benthic gear across sea floors can have long-lasting deadly effects on fragile species such as deep ocean corals. Scientists also estimate that the largely unexplored sea floor is home to between 500,000 and 100 million species. Deep sea trawling is already blamed for huge ecological changes in heavily fished areas such as the North Sea and Grand Bank.

Countries in favor of UN restrictions on deep-sea trawling include Australia, the United States, Britain, Norway, New Zealand, Brazil, India, South Africa, Chile, Germany, Canada and Palau. Conservation organizations such as Greenpeace International, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Conservation International have spent an estimated $5 million on lobbying the UN to pass bottom trawling regulations. The UN resolution, which is not legally binding, will come up for a vote before the General Assembly on 7 December where it is expected to pass without difficulty.

For more information on the UN resolution, read the 24 November Reuters story by Irwin Arieff at: www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/39125/story.htm.

John Heilprin of the Associated Press reports on the Bush Administrationís push for a trawling ban in a 3 October article available at: www.uniontribune.net/news/business/20061003-1334-wst-oceans-bottomtrawling.html.

In related news: a report entitled "Catching More Bait: A Bottom-up Re-estimation of Global Fisheries Subsidies" by Rashid Sumaila and Daniel Pauly has just been made available online at: www.fisheries.ubc.ca/publications/reports/report14_6.php. The report calculates that high seas bottom trawlers receive $152 million per year in government subsidies, without which much of the industry would probably fail. By country, the subsidies amounts are $35 million by Japan, followed by Russia at $30 million, South Korea at $27 million, Spain at $19 million, and Australia at $10 million. Governments are effectively paying for the destruction of the oceans, the reportsí authors contend. Over half of the subsidies go towards fuel costs; overall, the subsidies amount to 15 percent of the total value of the catch.

"There surely is a better way for governments to spend money than by increasing subsidies to a fleet that wastes fuel to maintain paltry catches of fish, from highly vulnerable stocks, while destroying their habitat in the process," the report states. A 17 November CanWest article by Margaret Munro covers the report: www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=c69635f6-434e-49c6-bed5-1653a706f1ee&k=45736.

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