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More than 100 marine scientists call for protecting the deep sea from trawling. Will you join us?


The least-impacted places in the ocean are mainly in the deep sea, but as fishing technology has improved, even seamounts, sponge gardens and deep-sea coral beds are no longer out of reach of our appetites for seafood. Bottom trawling, which involves dragging a heavy weighted net along the seabed, is so destructive to benthic habitats that it has been compared to clear-cutting a forest.  Bottom gillnetting catches almost anything that swims into them (and isn’t smaller than the mesh size), resulting in enormous levels of bycatch.

A (simplified) schematic of a bottom trawl. This one (on the NOAA vessel Henry Bigelow) is used for scientific sampling, not fishing, but it's the same principle on a smaller scale. Image via Wikimedia Commons

A (simplified) schematic of a bottom trawl. This one (on the NOAA vessel Henry Bigelow) is used for scientific sampling, not fishing, but it’s the same principle on a smaller scale.                  Image via Wikimedia Commons


The deep-sea fishing fleet of the European Union is one of the largest in the world, which is why it was so heartening to see the European Commission call for a phase-out of trawls and bottom gillnets recently. The Marine Conservation Institute, a longtime leader in marine protected areas, has obtained over 100 signatures (including mine) from marine scientists supporting a phase-out of bottom trawls and bottom gillnets by the EU fishing fleet. If you are a scientist who supports this measure, please consider adding your signature. This can be done by e-mailing [email protected] and including your name, institutional affiliation, degree, title, and full mailing address. Please note that MCI is primarily interested in signatures from the scientific community, and that simply posting a comment on this blog post is not equivalent to signing the petition.However, feel free to post a comment letting us know that you contacted MCI!


The full text of the petition can be seen after the jump:

Declaration of support: Protect the deep sea from destructive fishing

We, the undersigned, represent the concerned public and include artisanal fishers, development and environmental organisations, and other stakeholders. We share a common interest in restoring Europe’s deep; sea fish populations and ensuring the long; term conservation of deep-sea ecosystems. To that end, we support the prevention of adverse impacts on deep sea ecosystems, which can be accomplished in large part by phasing out destructive fishing practices and requiring impact assessments for all deep-sea fisheries.

The European Union (EU) has one of the world’s largest deep-sea fishing fleets. There is already widespread evidence that deep-sea bottom trawling has significantly damaged deep-sea ecosystems, including coral reefs, sponge gardens and seamounts, and caused serious declines in deep-sea fish populations. We urge EU decision makers to take a strong and constructive role in protecting deep-sea ecosystems both within and outside EU waters.

We seek a clear mandate from EU policymakers for sustainable management of deep-sea resources. To date, legislation enacted by EU Member States has been insufficient to protect the vulnerable marine ecosystems of the deep sea from the adverse impacts of destructive fishing gear, primarily deep-sea bottom trawling. Despite the introduction of new regulations to curb overfishing, deep-sea fish populations are seriously depleted in the Northeast Atlantic and the catch of most species continues to be unregulated.

We applaud the European Commission’s July 19, 2012, proposal to reform the deep sea access regime – specifically the provision that requires a phase-out of bottom trawling and bottom gillnet fishing for deep-sea species within two years. The proposal rightly integrates EU commitments to protect the deep sea made over the past decade at the United Nations General Assembly and at the June 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit. We urge the EU Council and Members of Parliament to honour those commitments by supporting the Commission proposal to overhaul its deep-sea fisheries.

We also support the current proposal which allows artisanal fishers who use selective fishing methods and gear to target species at levels that do not exceed scientific advice to continue to fish the deep sea sustainably and profitably. Artisanal fishers make important contributions to the social, economic and cultural fabric of Europe’s coastal communities in some of Europe’s outermost and deep-sea fishery dependent regions.

We call on European Union decision makers to transform deep-sea policy by:

  1. Ending destructive fishing practices through a mandatory phase-out of bottom trawling and bottom gillnet fishing for deep-sea species within two years;
  2. Requiring prior impact assessments for all deep-sea fisheries;
  3. Ensuring that fishing be permitted only if the catch, including any bycatch, can be limited to sustainable levels based on a clear scientific understanding of the species impacted, and that deep-sea fisheries are managed to minimize or prevent the catch of vulnerable, threatened, or endangered species;
  4. Ensuring that all deep-sea fisheries are managed to prevent adverse impacts on deep-sea ecosystems such as deep-sea coral, sponge and seamount ecosystems.