New Report on the impacts of Deep Sea Bottom Trawling on Seamounts to be presented at the UN General Assembly this Friday

Published on November 16, 2006

On Wednesday scientists warned that deep-sea bottom trawling is destroying seamounts teeming with marine life, causing irreparable damage to ecosystems. The report will be presented at the UN General Assembly on Friday where negotiations will resume on the issue of a high seas bottom trawling moratorium.

Over-exploitation of commercial species like cod and hake has made fleets trawl the high seas for deep-dwelling species like orange roughy, alfonsino and roundnose grenadier, putting a sever pressure on the biodiversity of vulnerable regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Dr Alex Rogers of the Zoological Society of London, co-author of the report “Seamounts, Deep-sea corals and Fisheries: vulnerability of deep-sea corals to fishing on seamounts beyond areas of national jurisdiction” says that there is an urgency to regulate those fisheries, and secondly to look at the habitats before they are gone. “Fish hundreds of years old are being decimated as a result of this trawling”, Rogers said in a news briefing in London.

There only exists scientific information of about 40 seamounts, while they are estimated to be around 100 000. In order to plot the potential global distribution of stony corals on seamounts and areas particularly sensitive to bottom trawling, the report used coral records on seamounts and global datasets on environmental factors in a computer model. The model predicts that commercial fishing for alfonsino and orange roughy in the southern-central Pacific Ocean are likely to have negative effects on seamount ecosystems.

The report will be presented at the United Nations General Assembly this week, where negotiations will resume on the issue of a high seas bottom trawling moratorium. Regardless of majority support for an interim ban, a few countries continue to disrupt progress. Canada, Spain Russia and the European Union all have either weak or oppositional positions and are preventing an agreement from being achieved.

“All along the science has shown us that bottom trawling on the high seas needs to stop, until we can be sure it’s not damaging unique deep sea life. This new research is the most emphatic yet – high seas bottom trawling is destroying vulnerable ecosystems. Most countries in the world support a moratorium of some kind, it’s time for the remaining few who oppose action to step out of the way”, says Matthew Gianni fisheries expert of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.