Towards an International Ban on Trawling

At the end of 2010, Belize became the third country in the world to ban bottom-trawling. Conservationists hope that this legislation will now encourage other fishing nations to follow suit.

In 2006, after Palau signed the first domestic law banning trawling and shark-finning, it led the effort at the United Nations to establish an international ban. The proposal was supported by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, as well as over 1,100 of the world’s foremost experts in marine science and conservation biology.

“Bottom-trawling is like using a bulldozer in a rainforest to catch songbirds,” Arlo Hemphill, ocean conservationist

Unfortunately, the proposal for a global ban did not result in any firm legislation as it was undermined by Iceland and Russia, but as Arlo Hemphill, world renowned conservation biologist, explorer and advocate for High Seas conservation, told Positive News: “The campaign was nevertheless an enormous success. Between the fishing industry itself, individual governments and international management bodies and treaties, enormous swaths of ocean were closed to this destructive practice in time to protect sensitive seamounts and deep sea coral ecosystems.”

He added: “The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, which is developing a specific mandate to manage bottom fisheries, was created almost entirely in response to the growing awareness generated via the campaign. The good news is that the world has finally caught on to the value of marine protected areas, and their rate of creation, effective management and enforcement are proliferating worldwide.”

Another recent success was the prohibition of bottom-trawling in the northern Bering Sea. Over 25 tribal governments and Alaska Native organisations requested the closure to protect essential fish habitat, and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council fully supported the action. In 2010, the US also banned bottom-trawling in a 23,000 square mile area off the Southeast Atlantic coast between North Carolina and Florida ñ home to the world’s largest area of pristine cold-water corals.

Meanwhile however, European nations keep trawling, despite commitments they made to the UN General Assembly to halt the practice. Officials have agreed to end deep-sea shark fishing and restrict the catching of some species, but at present, the industry continues largely as before.

According to scientists, trawling has already turned much of the seabed around the UK into a barren wasteland. A recent report acknowledged that Britain’s coastal waters have turned from blue to a dirty grey, partly because of the destruction of its shellfish beds which kept the water clean, and partly due to the muddy seabed being churned up, releasing silt and sediment.

As consumers and citizens, the public can help change the current trends by avoiding fish likely to be from trawled catch in shops, supermarkets restaurant menus.

‘Although there is still a lot to be done,” said Stephanie Goodwin, Greenpeace Canada oceans campaign co-ordinator, “many retailers across Europe and North America have already changed their seafood procurement practices, increasingly taking sustainability concerns into account. It is unfortunate that policy-makers are lagging behind both consumers and business in taking action to save our seas, but it is not too late to rescue our oceans for future generations. Action is needed now.’