NAFO should adopt trawling moratorium – Greenpeace

The international agency that manages the fishery on the high seas has done such a miserable job of protecting fish stocks that it needs to introduce a moratorium on the controversial practice of trawling, according to a report released yesterday

Greenpeace will ask the Canadian government to impose a temporary ban on the disputed fishing method, claiming it has depleted fish stocks and destroyed their habitats with its massive nets that sweep along the ocean floor.

The appeal comes amidst assertions that the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, which determines quotas in international waters, has managed the resource so poorly that many fish species are under moratoriums while member countries that violate fishing regulations continue to go unpunished.

“NAFO has been responsible for managing one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the fisheries for the last 20 to 25 years and has basically failed miserably,” Karen Sack, a Greenpeace lawyer and co-author of the 21-page report obtained by The Canadian Press, said from Washington before its release.

“It needs to change significantly and change now in order to responsibly manage those resources so there are fish for the future.”

Sack said that NAFO, which was formed in 1979, has adopted such weak conservation and management practices that as of 2005, 10 of the fish stocks under its jurisdiction have been so overfished that moratoriums have been placed on them.

Part of that is due to trawling, which involves dragging a large net over the sea floor and picking up everything in its wake while shearing off corals and sea mounts, or underwater mountains.

Marine conservation groups have been lobbying for years to have an international moratorium put in place, but only a few countries have restricted the activity.

“If we wait for the international agencies to move on their own to protect these sea mounts, there’ll be nothing left,” said Mark Butler, a marine specialist with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

“And 10 years from now, we’ll put in some international regime to protect them but so much of it will be gone. It’s a total, utter tragedy.”

Greenpeace plans to send a vessel to the nose and tail of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland on Monday to document the effects of trawling in waters outside the 200-mile limit.

Observers will monitor what is pulled up in the nets and thrown over as bycatch – species other than what is being fished for.

The group will report its findings when its vessel, the Esperanza, returns to Halifax.

“What we’re out there to prove is that it is a destructive fishing method and that untold amounts of deep sea life is being destroyed as well as the fisheries, which are being made unsustainable through this fishing practice,” said Sack.

“We believe this moratorium is urgent and should be put in place this year and we are concerned the Canadian government is not taking a proactive role as a steward of the deep ocean,” she said.

The group also says NAFO, which manages an area where about 60 per cent of the world’s trawling takes place, has to become more transparent in its decision-making and crack down on countries that defy fishing regulations.

The report claims that the organization has become so toothless that it has little power to control countries that are scooping up more fish than they are entitled to, and are fishing stocks that are under moratoriums.

In the last decade, Canada, one of the oldest members in the group, has issued 319 citations for illegal fishing against European member vessels, but has produced only 24 convictions, the document states.

It says the group is “plagued by overfishing and misreporting by members because of a disregard for quotas and other regulations.”

It says NAFO has no effective means of eliminating illegal fishing, and sets its catch allocations based on politics rather than scientific advice.