In Dead Water

Among the most destructive fishing methods in the World is bottom trawling (Thrush and Dayton, 2002; Pusceddu et al ., 2005; Tillin et al ., 2006; de Juan et al ., 2007, Hixon et al ., 2007). Large nets, kept open and weighted down by heavy ‘doors’ and metal rollers, are dragged by a trawler across the sea bed. This virtually plows and levels the seafloor, picking up fish and shrimps but also catching, crushing and destroy- ing other marine life. The North Sea and Grand Banks have been major sites of bottom trawling, with some traditional and easily accessible areas being trawled multiple times per year. Indeed, landings data collated for round- and flatfish caught in the northern, central and southern North Sea from 1906 to 2000 as prox- ies for total otter and beam trawl effort, respectively, indicate that the southern and much of the central North Sea were fished intensively throughout the 20th century, whilst the northern North Sea was less exploited, especially in earlier decades. The fisheries efforts intensified markedly from the 1960s onwards. Biogeographical changes from the beginning

to the end of the century occurred in 27 of 48 taxa. In 14 taxa, spatial presence was reduced by 50% or more, most notably in the southern and central North Sea; often these were long- lived, slow-growing species with vulnerable shells or tests. By contrast, 12 taxa doubled their spatial presence throughout the North Sea. Most biogeographical changes had happened by the 1980s. Given that other important environmental changes, including eutrophication and climate change, have gained importance mainly from the 1980s onwards, the study concluded that the changes in epibenthos observed since the beginning of the 20th century have resulted primarily from intensified fisheries (Callaway et al ., 2007). Whereas trawling in shallow coastal waters is often carried out by smaller ves- sels, deep-water and high sea bottom trawling requires large and powerful ships. Such fleets are mostly based in industri- alised countries, but fish intensively and for months at a time across the World’s oceans. Often these distant water fishing fleets are fuelled and kept afloat (literally) by subsidies and incentives, without which their operation would hardly be economically viable.


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