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Home > Environmental Issues > Article

Global bottom trawling moratorium is blocked at the United Nations

25 November 2006

Immediate action to stop destruction of high seas biodiversity through a global moratorium on bottom trawling has been blocked by fishing nations led by Iceland during UN committee negotiations.

Other nations that opposed a ban include Russia, Canada, China, Japan and South Korea.

A compromise agreement for the protection of vulnerable high seas areas, which started to gain interest from a handful of fishing nations that have opposed a global ban, was also derailed by Iceland.

A pathetic draft resolution adopted by the committee recommends that nations ensure vessels are not causing harm, or cease to authorize vessels flying their flag to bottom trawl on the high seas.

United States Assistant Secretary of State Claudia McMurray said "there were several countries that really didn't want any controls at all. Unfortunately the resolution comes up short. We're very disappointed this is the result we ended up with".

The UN committee's alternative measures are the status quo, leaving it up to countries to decide whether bottom trawling gear is used.

It is a tragic setback for the protection of high seas biodiversity after so much progress has been made during the last two years in gaining international support, and a majority of nations sought immediate control of high seas bottom trawling.

It is tragic for the ocean environment that a few fishing nations will be able to continue their destruction, just as they have been doing.

A UN agreement must be unanimous amongst nations, so action that is endorsed by a clear majority can be sabotaged by one small state.

Canada, which opposed the ban, is now rejoicing in the outcome. Lori Rideway who is head of the Canadian UN delegation said "It is a huge step forward". She took credit for Canada playing "an instrumental role, if not the instrumental role, in helping these talks conclude successfully".

This is not the end of bottom trawling restrictions - the work to achieve them will continue with greater force. The momentum of support for controlling bottom trawling will only increase, to morally condemn nations that oppose any restraint on their destructive fishing practices.

Iceland's heavy dependence on fishing

Iceland is a small nation of 292,000 people and a land area of 103,000 which is 38 percent of the land area of New Zealand. Its' economy is heavily dependent on fish exports.

The fishing industry provides $2.25 billion in export earnings which is 70 percent of total exports. Fishing employs 6,600 workers which is 4 percent of the country's workforce.

The Iceland government fails dismally to recognise that destructive fishing is not sustainable, and that the country may not have a fishing industry if current practices continue.

Iceland is one three nations that defies the International Whaling Commission to conduct whaling.

    Take action ......

Do not purchase deepsea seafood

Consumers have the power to reject fish caught by bottom trawling, to stop supporting companies using destructive fishing practices.

Orange roughy is only caught by bottom trawling.

Let your food store and restaurant owner know that you will not be purchasing orange roughy.

NZ government calls compromise UN draft resolution "progress"

Contrary to the disappointment of other moratorium advocates, the New Zealand government took a different view of the outcome of UN committee negotiations.

In a statement by the Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton, entitled "NZ continues to progress bottom trawling at the UN" he said "New Zealand is heartened by a significant advance in international efforts to regulate high seas bottom trawling".

Mr Anderton said "the outcome from this year's negotiations is not as specific and sweeping as measures that we and others like Australia had proposed, but it is a major step forward from where we have been".

The compromise draft resolution which will go before the UN General Assembly on December 7th is extremely weak, and is certainly not progress.

Nations have had the same ability to act for many years, but most have not.

New Zealand is pleased with one outcome it advocated, for effective measures to control bottom trawling in those areas of the high seas already being managed by a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO), and effective interim measures where an RFMO is under negotiation.

There are six RFMOs in existence with the power to regulate bottom trawling.  Only the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has regulated bottom trawling which actually, does not occur in its area of jurisdiction.

Seventy-five percent of the world's oceans, including all of the Pacific, the majority of the Atlantic, and all of the Northern Indian Ocean are unregulated with no RFMOs. The recently formed Southern Indian Ocean RFMO took six years to form and will take many more to establish policies and regulatory controls.

Interim measures were rejected at the recent second meeting of the South Pacific RFMO in Hobart.

It remains to be seen how quickly and effectively existing and new RFMOs will introduce controls. So it looks as if the New Zealand fleet has a few years of unrestricted high seas bottom trawling left.

The New Zealand government has told us how hard it has worked at the UN for a strong outcome on bottom trawling.  Well now it can secure a strong outcome with its own high seas fleet, to ensure vessels carrying the New Zealand flag are not causing harm, in accordance with the new UN resolution. This could have been done five years ago.

And while it acts for the high seas, New Zealand should do the same in its own EEZ.


Deepsea images (above), of rock coral, crab and sea anemone bycatch from New Zealand bottom trawling vessels fishing in high seas areas of the Tasman Sea. The vast array of living things that are dredged up shows how widespread bottom trawling destruction is.

Crown Copyright © Ministry of Fisheries
View 70 images of bottom trawling bycatch

The New Zealand bottom trawling fleet is one of eleven operating on the high seas, and the third largest.  Other nations with deepsea bottom trawling fleets are Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Japan, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Norway and Denmark.

Coral bycatch (below) from a New Zealand vessel bottom trawling in the high seas.

Image Crown Copyright © Ministry of Fisheries

Copyright © 2006 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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