Trawling By Fishing Fleets
Is Destroying Ocean Floors
Discovery Online
Trawling by the world's fishing fleets is disrupting the balance of ocean life and destroying countless creatures, including commercially important ones, a group of marine scientists say.
The ecological damage from trawling and dredging is at least comparable to the toll from clear-cutting forests, yet the problem has gone virtually unnoticed until now, the researchers say in a series of studies in December's journal Conservation Biology.
Trawling and dredging for fish ends up crushing, killing and disturbing critical food and protection for young cod and other fish, both the American Oceans Campaign and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute said at a news conference Monday.
Andrew Rosenberg, deputy director of the federal National Marine Fisheries Service, says some of the groups' conclusions are inaccurate and lack scientific backing. "I'm not sure focusing on trawling is appropriate," he says.
The environmentalists say these studies confirm their fears.
"It is more disturbing to the biosphere than any other human activity, with the possible exception of agriculture," biologist Elliott A. Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond, Wash., and an author of one of the reports, tells the Washington Post. "It is certainly much more so than logging."
Some trawlers' weighted nets scrape the sea floor like giant rakes, scooping up fish and other creatures. Tens of thousands of trawlers each year drag ocean bottoms twice the size of the lower 48 states, the groups say.
Every pound of desirable sea creatures caught wastes four pounds of other marine life, according to the report. It takes decades for some bottom life to regenerate after a trawler passes, but trawlers generally return two years later, the groups say.
While less than 1 percent of the world's oceans are protected, the groups say as much as 20 percent need to be preserved. They called on federal and state regulators and regional fishery management councils to take action.
"We're afraid they're oversimplifying the problem," says Scott Smullen, a spokesman for the fisheries service.
Peter Auster, science director of the University of Connecticut's National Undersea Research Center, told the news conference, "Our fisheries ... need the other components of marine communities to be sustainable. That means if you care about fish and seafood, you'd better care about tube worms, crustaceans and anemones, too."