Destructive Fishing Practises must be banned

May 30, 2024

Bottom trawling and dredging are characterized by the active towing of nets along the seabed. These fisheries make use of gears that are designed to touch or intrude into the seabed. Bottom trawling and dredging have long been known to be detrimental to marine life. The use of towed gear was regarded as a destructive fishing method since the early 14th century, and was often vocally opposed by communities of fishers who saw it as a threat to marine resources and their own livelihoods.

Countless scientific studies, encompassing decades of fishery research, have documented the harmful nature of bottom trawling and dredging, with cumulative evidence of damage to marine species and ecosystems being nothing short of monumental. The use of towed fishing gear reduces the biomass, diversity and complexity of benthic communities, and the action of this gear on the seabed causes dramatic mechanical and chemical alterations, compromising the seabed’s functionality and productivity. In addition to the target species, most types of trawl gear take unwanted species, such as threatened elasmobranchs, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals. In addition to these biological impacts, recent studies indicate that bottom trawling has a substantial carbon footprint, with high direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate disruption.

Regulations and enforcement levels vary greatly across areas, and environmental protection measures are often ineffective—to the point that the intensity of bottom trawling can be higher inside than outside some Marine Protected Areas in Europe.

The European Union to take Action – but many Member States object

In February 2023, the European Commission published an action plan for reconciling marine protection and fisheries. Its main objective is to make fishing practices more sustainable by improving gear selectivity and reducing impacts on sensitive species (such as dolphins) and the seabed. On seabeds, the Commission is calling for a ban on mobile bottom fishing (bottom trawling) in marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030. It is hard to even consider that until today, most Member States allow such destructive practices to be undertaken even within marine protected areas. This important Action plan by the EU Commission is facing strong opposition from some Member States. But it needs to be noted that such move is much needed to become implemented due to the obligation by the Member States to protect the seafloor as well as species.

Moving towards ending destructive fishing practises

A primary management approach that could help mitigate the harmful effects of these gears—consistent with international commitments to protect the marine environment—entails the use of fishing gear that is less destructive, combined with the creation of more areas where destructive fishing is either not allowed or is at least effectively regulated. These management measures can bring longer-term benefits in the form of healthier, more diverse and resilient marine ecosystems that sustain local fishing communities and contribute to global biodiversity, sustainability and climate targets.

An additional management measure consists in the elimination of fishery subsidies that enhance the capacity and effort of trawling and dredging fleets. These “harmful subsidies” should be replaced by “beneficial subsidies” that help convert fleets and ensure that fishers are provided with viable alternatives. Such measure would be consistent with UNEP’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which highlighted the need to eliminate “perverse” subsidies that promote “excessive use of ecosystem services” and “affect the management of resources and their sustainable use by encouraging overexploitation of the resource, thereby worsening the common property problem present in fisheries”.

OceanCare is increasing it’s efforts to ban destructive fishing practises.