NRDC – Nature’s Voice, June/July 2011 www.nrdc.org/naturesvoice
It's almost impossible to fathom: Every year, industrial fishing trawlers rake over an area of the earth 1.5 times larger than the United States, destroying what scientists believe may be some of the planet's most biologically diverse habitats and countless specially adapted species whose mysteries we are only beginning to understand. The destruction is wholesale and indiscriminate, and for decades it has gone on unchecked across vast stretches of the high seas -- until now.
"In terms of the sheer scope of environmental devastation, high-seas bottom trawling is on par with strip-mining and the clear-cutting of forests," says Lisa Speer, director of NRDC's International Oceans Program. "But because it happens in deep water, people don't see the damage. It hasn't generated the same kind of widespread public outrage that industrial logging and mining have." A huge trawler dragging a net 200 feet long and 40 feet wide can raze a half-acre of deep-ocean habitat in a single pass and haul upwards of two tons of dead and dying marine life to the surface. For six years Speer has been leading NRDC's efforts to change that, and her work is starting to pay off. The days of unregulated bottom trawlers plying international waters with impunity may be numbered, thanks in part to a landmark treaty recently adopted by the United States and six other countries.
As a member of the U.S. delegation to the treaty talks, Speer worked with federal negotiators to help shape the international agreement, the first ever aimed at reducing the massive environmental impact caused by bottom trawling in the high seas of the North Pacific. Covering some 16.1 million square miles of open ocean, from south of the Hawaiian Islands to the waters off Russia and Alaska, the treaty -- and the interim measures that were adopted pending its ratification -- will prohibit bottom trawling in both new and existing fishing areas unless its impacts on vulnerable marine habitats are assessed and controlled. It also calls for observers to travel on each trawler to monitor its operations. China, Japan, Korea, Canada, Russia and Taiwan joined the United States in signing the agreement.