Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Proposal to Phase Out Bottom Trawling in Northeast Atlantic Draws Mixed Reactions

A proposal from the European Commission to phase out bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting for deep sea fishing fleets in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean is drawing mixed reactions among fisheries interests in Alaska.

Word of the European Commission’s proposal came from the Pew Environment Group, which praised Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, for “the bold proposal to finally put an end to these unsustainable and destructive deep sea fishing methods.

“Marine scientists have roundly concluded that deep-sea bottom trawling is the most direct and widespread threat to fragile deep-sea ecosystems,” Pew said in its written statement. “If the commission proposal is adopted, it would transform the EU into a global defender of deep-sea marine life by protecting vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems from the harmful impacts of destructive bottom fishing.”

“Globally, bottom trawl fisheries are considered high impact,” said Dorothy Childers, of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “Although Alaska fisheries are managed more rigorously to prevent overfishing, account for bycatch and protect certain habitat features, there are areas in our waters still exposed to bottom trawling that are ecologically sensitive and important to community-based small-scale fisheries.”

John Gauvin, a spokesperson for the Groundfish Forum, and Jim Gilmore of the At-sea Processors Association, said, however, that the announcement was not relevant to Alaska.

Gauvin said Alaska’s trawl, and other fisheries in federal waters also, are managed to prevent overfishing and effects on habitats have been studied and protections put in place. These include closed areas to protect coral concentrations and gear modifications, which have reduced bottom contact from flatfish trawls by 90 percent, he said. The European Union proposal is targeted at banning development of new deep-sea fisheries, fisheries that have no management in place, he said.

Gilmore said he found nothing in the announcement relevant to Alaska, particularly the Pollock fishery, which is conducted using mid-water trawl nets. Gilmore added that judging from the announcement, such a rule would affect less than 1 percent of the EU’s annual landings and apply largely to previously unregulated fisheries.

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