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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Environmentalists urge global ban on fishing trawlers
As policy makers from around the world gather here to attend a major United Nations conference on fisheries, a prominent environmental group has renewed its demand for a global effort to stem so-called pirate fishing and a worldwide moratorium on high seas fishing by commercial companies using bottom trawlers.
"Pirate fishing is a global problem that requires a global solution," said Sari Tolvanen of Greenpeace International in a statement urging the international community to endorse an immediate UN ban on all high seas bottom trawling, a type of commercial fishing that many scientists believe lays waste to the deep sea floor and the delicate and vulnerable marine life that inhabits it.
On Tuesday, the group released a new report detailing the activities of five high seas fishing trawlers that continue to make safe heavens of European harbors at the expense of vulnerable deep sea life despite being blacklisted by the European Union and the North Atlantic Fisheries Commission last year.
The report, which coincides with the UN conference on fisheries, points out that over the past six months the blacklisted trawlers changed their names and flags and received services in Germany, Lithuania, and Poland before sailing back to their old fishing grounds.
Also, last week Greenpeace said it found 64 vessels fishing in the international waters of the Irminger Sea in the North Atlantic, an area known for its cold water corals. They included the five blacklisted vessels, the Eva, Juanita, Rosita, Carmen, and Isabella.
The weeklong UN meeting, which started Monday, is focused on efforts to strengthen the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, which aims to ensure responsible fishing of highly migratory fish stocks and other resources that straddle the boundaries between national jurisdiction and the high seas.
So far only 56 countries have signed on to this agreement while six of the worlds top 10 fish producing countries, including Japan and China, remain outside the accord. Japan and China, however, have given some indications of joining the agreement at a later stage.
"The level of participation needs to grow to give the agreement broader support," said David Doulman of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a statement, which also stressed the need for increased assistance to developing countries so that they could be able to meet their obligations under the agreement.
Many delegates acknowledged that at the Conference the issue of how to stop overfishing by means of bottom trawling has become more contentious than ever before.
"There are many proposals to put a limit on their capacity," David Bolton, Chairman of the Conference, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. He indicated, however, that that issue was unlikely to be resolved at the meeting this week and that it was expected to be taken up by the 191-member UN General Assembly when it meets in September.
Delegates are divided on the question of whether regional efforts could prove a better alternative to placing an international moratorium on bottom trawling. China, for example, is more inclined to adopt a regional approach rather than a global ban, according to observers closely watching the talks.
Opponents of the proposed moratorium say there is no scientific study to prove that bottom trawling is having adverse impacts on marine environments and ecosystems.
"It makes no sense," said Javier Garat Perez, vice president of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations, which represents industrys interests. "Its not a solution," he said, suggesting that instead of placing a ban on bottom trawling, governments should be taking more steps to curb illegal fishing.
But those concerned about the impact of bottom trawling disagree.
"While the science is being done, we dont know fully what the effects are," said Harlan Cohen of the World Conservation Union, an environmental group that works closely with the UN. Cohen said his group supports the idea of an interim prohibition.
Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, says Greenpeace. "All evidence indicates that deep water lifeforms are very slow to recover from such damage, taking decades to hundreds of years--if they recover at all," the group says on its Web site.
Greenpeace thinks that the "global nature of fishing piracy" as exposed by its monitors, suggests that no individual government actions could prove effective in the absence of an internationally agreed moratorium on the use of bottom trawling.
The group is now launching a new campaign in favor of its demands and hopes to gather one million signatures by the end of next February.
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