Much to the dismay of conservationists around the world, destructive fishing practices will continue in international waters.
On December 8, the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly adopted a broad international fisheries resolution that failed to include language that would have banned deep sea bottom trawling. Bottom trawling is a fishing method that involves commercial vessels dragging heavy nets across the sea floor, indiscriminately destroying delicate marine life in their paths.
In the end, it was Iceland that derailed efforts during recent negotiations to impose an interim ban on bottom trawling until proper management strategies could be put in place. Iceland is one of relatively few countries including Spain and Japan that profit from the practice because it has fleets in international waters trawling the ocean floor.
For the short-term gains of their fishing industries, Iceland and other nations effectively blocked the consensus that was needed to protect deep sea habitats, says Roger McManus, Conservation International's (CI) senior director of marine programs. Until the destructive mining of these ecosystems is halted, we will continue to lose these spectacular places and their rare and endemic species.
As a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), CI has been outspoken in its support for a temporary ban.
The Momentum Behind a Moratorium
Policymakers did not ban bottom trawling despite momentum that had been building in recent months in favor of a moratorium. That momentum continued Friday despite a disappointing outcome, with many countries vowing to continue the fight.
"States are making commitments today that they have avoided making for years," says Karen Sack, oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace, a fellow member of the DSCC.
In October, the Bush administration announced the United States' official support for the cessation of destructive fishing practices. In November, two newly published reports lent weight to the arguments backed by scientists and several other countries who have charged that the practice needs to stop.
An early November report in the journal Science painted an urgent picture, concluding that the worlds seafood would be entirely depleted by 2048. Just weeks later, a U.N. draft environmental report confirmed that heavy trawling nets are destroying largely unexplored ecosystems in the deep seas.
Next Steps: A Call to Study Impacts
On a more hopeful note, the resolution adopted on Friday does call on regional fisheries management groups to study the impacts of deep sea bottom fishing. It stipulates they put an end to not only bottom trawling, but also to any type of bottom fishing by December 31, 2008, if they find the practice is destroying vulnerable marine ecosystems. Where regional fisheries organizations lack authority to do that, the resolution calls on countries to take those same steps by the end of 2007.
Without an immediate international ban, however, the burden falls more than ever on consumers and conservationists to protect the deep seas.
"It is now up to consumers, seafood purveyors, and conservationists around the world to vote with their wallets," says Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also a member of the DSCC. "That will send a clear message to the ocean plunderers that their days are numbered."