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 Welcome Shift In Policy
The announcement comes as the United Nations (U.N.) considers how to better protect the disappearing ecosystems in the high seas the 64 percent of Earth's ocean that lies beyond any national jurisdiction. The U.N. General Assembly will vote Dec. 7 on whether to implement an interim moratorium that would prohibit deep sea bottom trawling the primary form of destructive fishing until effective high seas management and protection is in place.
But while the White House has vowed to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, it has stopped short of saying it favors a moratorium on bottom trawling. During U.N. talks in early October, the United States did not express specific support for an interim ban on the foremost practice that is ravaging Earth's rich and diverse marine habitats.
Perils of the High Seas
Deep sea bottom trawling is a fishing method in which heavy nets drawn by commercial vessels are dragged across the sea floor, indiscriminately capturing most of the marine life in their paths.
As a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) a group of more than 60 conservation and environmental organizations Conservation International has been aggressively working to prohibit bottom trawling based on scientific research that highlights the value of the high seas.
Scientists have discovered that the high seas are a largely untapped source of natural medicines, used to treat diseases like cancer and asthma. They 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.
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"One of the primary reasons a moratorium should be put into effect is that we simply do not know enough about the deep ocean to understand where and how it must be protected," says Arlo Hemphill, CI's director of global marine strategies. "We need the time that a moratorium will offer to explore the deep sea and better understand how to protect deep sea ecosystems and manage sustainable fisheries in high seas areas."
"Most people think somebody, somewhere is looking out for the deep oceans, but they aren't," says actress Sigourney Weaver, who recently spoke on behalf of the DSCC. "These deep sea trawlers are operating beyond the reach of the law. It's up to all of us to change that."
Senate Resolution Introduced
Several members of the U.S. Senate also agree it is time to negotiate protections for disappearing ocean ecosystems. Just before the White House announced its stance, Alaska Republican Ted Stevens 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, calls management of fishing on the high seas "patchy at best," adding that, "illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, as well as expanding industrial foreign fleets and high bycatch levels, are monumental threats to sustainable fisheries worldwide."