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Bottom trawling threatens potential cancer cures

30 January 2005 - Wellington

Bottom trawling threatens potential cancer cures

A letter warning that destructive fishing methods are hampering the search for cancer cures has been published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal.

Senior academics Dr Nick Wilson, and Cath Wallace, along with Forest and Bird's senior researcher Barry Weeber warned in their letter that the search for new pharmaceuticals and the health benefits of eating fish were being threatened by the damage caused by trawling.

According to the letter, bottom trawling is damaging sponges and other sea life on the sea floor that has the potential to provide important new medicines. The letter cited reviews that showed New Zealand sponges and a tunicate (sea squirt) were yielding substances with anti cancer properties.

The authors cited a Marlborough Sounds sponge that has been discovered to have anti-leukaemia properties that may be more effective than existing drugs.

Wellington School of Medicine and Heath Sciences senior lecturer Dr Wilson said that "marine biodiversity needs better protection so that the potential pharmaceutical benefits of marine species can be fully realised by scientific studies."

"The New Zealand Government needs to show some leadership by working towards an international moratorium on bottom trawling in the high seas. It should also do more to expand expanding marine reserves in our waters and on the high seas," he said.

Senior Victoria University public policy lecturer Cath Wallace said, "We have recently heard of fish factory closures and job loses which result because of over-fishing and fish stock losses. This letter raises the losses to medicine and health from the destruction of other marine organisms from bottom trawling and the need for the government to support a moratorium on bottom trawling for the sake of health and bottom processes."

Forest and Bird's senior researcher Barry Weeber said, "Protecting marine biodiversity needs to be taken more seriously by Government."

"This includes progressing the Marine Reserves Bill and creating more marine reserves, substantially increasing funding for the Department of Conservation work in the marine protection, reforming the Ministry of Fisheries with its failing quota management system, and putting oceans management on a genuinely sustainable footing," he said.

Where can I find the letter?

The letter is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. It is titled:

Wilson N, Wallace C, Weeber B. The potential health benefits of protecting marine biodiversity. N Z Med J 2005;118(U1208)

Contact the authors for a copy of the letter

Who are the authors?

Dr Nick Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in public health at the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Otago University.

Cath Wallace is a Senior Lecturer in environmental economics at the School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington.

Barry Weeber is a Senior Researcher at the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society with expertise in fisheries and marine management.

Key quotes from letter:

New Zealand is one of 12 countries responsible for 96% of the world's high seas bottom trawling.[i] The damage by bottom trawling to marine ecosystems is causing mounting international condemnation.

The damage wrought by trawling should concern health professionals given the health-related reasons for conserving marine biodiversity.

One recent review observed that: "the marine environment has proven to be a very rich source of extremely potent compounds that have demonstrated significant activities in anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, analgesia, immunomodulation, allergy, and anti-viral assays".[ii]

_____ [i] Gianni M. High Seas Bottom Trawl Fisheries and their Impacts on the Biodiversity of Vulnerable Deep-Sea Ecosystems: Options for International Action. IUCN/the World Conservation Union, Natural Resources Defense Council, WWF International, Conservation International, 2004.
[ii] Newman DJ, Cragg GM. Marine natural products and related compounds in clinical and advanced preclinical trials. J Nat Prod. 2004;67:1216-38.


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