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U.S. Supports Cessation of Destructive Fishing Practices
United Nations Considering Interim Moratorium on Bottom Trawling

Kate Barrett, Staff Writer

Oct. 4, 2006: Significant progress has been made in efforts to halt destructive fishing practices on the high seas, as the Bush administration announced October 3 the United States' official support for their cessation. A moratorium is currently under consideration by the United Nations that will prohibit deep sea bottom trawling – the primary form of destructive fishing activity that is ravaging Earth’s rich and diverse marine ecosystems in the high seas.

A Welcome Shift In Policy
Deep sea bottom trawling is a fishing method in which heavy nets drawn by commercial vessels drag across the sea floor, indiscriminately capturing most of the marine life in their paths. The practice is destroying rich marine habitats, with biodiversity comparable to the world’s rain forests, in high seas areas – the 64 percent of Earth’s ocean that lies beyond any national jurisdiction.

The welcome shift in U.S. policy comes as the U.N. begins talks to negotiate protection for disappearing deep sea ecosystems. The talks will culminate in a general assembly vote between Nov. 17 and 22 on whether to implement an interim moratorium that will prohibit deep sea bottom trawling until effective high seas management and protection are in place.

"Even New Zealand, with a high seas bottom trawling fleet that fishes in unregulated international waters, has stated it will support a moratorium if there is sufficient international support,” says Arlo Hemphill, CI’s director of global marine strategies. “That support is growing rapidly and will continue to do so now with United States leadership.”

Senate Resolution Introduced

Added pressure on the administration to strengthen its policy also came from Congress late last week when Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, introduced a Senate resolution supported by 21 of his peers stating that destructive fishing on the high seas should not be allowed.

Stevens, who also authored the U.S.’s Magnuson-Stevens fisheries law, called management of fishing on the high seas “patchy at best.”

“Management internationally, and especially with respect to high seas bottom trawling, is sadly lacking,” he says. “Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, as well as expanding industrial foreign fleets and high bycatch levels, are monumental threats to sustainable fisheries worldwide.”

CI and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Conservation International (CI) has been aggressively working to prohibit deep sea bottom trawling until international regulations can be adopted and enforced. As a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) -- a group of more than 60 conservation and environmental organizations -- CI strives to protect underwater regions based on scientific research that highlights the value of these areas.

Scientists have found the high seas to be a largely untapped source of natural medicines, used to treat diseases like cancer and asthma. Researchers also warn that marine species in the high seas cannot regenerate quickly after being harmed because they have trouble growing and reproducing in waters that are so deep and cold.

Sigourney Weaver Speaks Out

Giving the DSCC a more visible profile, actress Sigourney Weaver spoke on behalf of the coalition at the U.N. on October 3 to highlight the problem before talks began.

“The oceans that millions of people around the world depend on for sustenance and livelihood are being plundered while the world sits by and watches,” Weaver says. “Some of the oldest ecosystems on Earth are being destroyed. Most people think somebody, somewhere is looking out for the deep oceans, but they aren't. These deep sea trawlers are operating beyond the reach of the law. It's up to all of us to change that.”

Related Links:
> Feature Story: Deep Sea Bottom Trawling
> Feature Story: Saving the World's Last Frontier: Our High Seas
> Press Release: U.N. Review Shows Need To Halt Destructive Fishing
> Conservation Regions: Priority Areas: Key Marine Regions
> Conservation Strategy: Key Marine Regions: CI's Marine Strategy
> On the Web: Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

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© Kevin Raskoff/DSCC
Deep sea bottom trawling is the primary form of destructive fishing activity that is ravaging Earth's rich and diverse marine ecosystems in the high seas.

© Art Howard/NAPRO
Trawl nets are drawn across the sea floor and indiscriminately capture most of the marine life in their paths.

© NOAA/US Dept. of Commerce
Destructive fishing practices are destroying rich marine habitats, with biodiversity comparable to the world's rain forests.

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