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Scientists Spotlight Lawless Fishing

As UN Meets, Scientists Spotlight Lawless Fishing Crisis

UNITED NATIONS (Tuesday, October 3) Actress Sigourney Weaver today joined a coalition representing more than 60 conservation organizations from around the world at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York to call for new action to confront lawless bottom trawling in deep sea fisheries, a practice scientists say is destroying some of the world's rarest and most sensitive ocean habitats.

The event, sponsored by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), comes a day before representatives of UN member states gather to negotiate protections for vanishing deep sea ecosystems. The groups say delegates are under unprecedented pressure to tackle the problem.

"This may be the last chance we have to save some of the earth's most vital and important ecosystems," Weaver said Tuesday. "The natural treasures of the deepest ocean are being levelled by trawling, devastating areas of importance to all humankind. The international community simply must step up and act."

Action by the General Assembly (GA) had been delayed pending the outcome of a review by members of the GA of measures already taken. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, published a report summarising such measures in July 2006 and concluded that little had been done to protect vulnerable deep sea ecosystems on the high seas. It found that: "Many fisheries are not managed until they are over-exploited and clearly depleted and, because of the high vulnerability of deep-sea species to exploitation and their low potential for recovery, this is of particular concern for these stocks. This raises the question of the urgent need for interim measures in particular circumstances, pending the adoption of conservation and management regimes."

Calling for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling, the DSCC and Weaver were joined by the UN Ambassadors from Australia, and Palau, who are championing new protections, and Ellen Pikitch, the executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science at the University of Miami.

"The UN has been debating this issue for three years while the problem keeps getting worse," said Lisa Speer of the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), a DSCC member. "Fleets ply vast areas of open ocean beyond the reach of any national jurisdiction, and they are doing irreparable damage to some of the oldest and most unique ecosystems on earth."

The high seas cover more than half the planet's surface, constituting a global commons that is increasingly recognized as a priceless reservoir of biodiversity. Scientists probing once-unreachable depths in recent years have discovered sprawling coral reefs, and chemical compounds that hold promise for the treatment of human diseases like cancer and asthma.

Karen Sack of Greenpeace International, also a member of the DSCC, added, "The UN has the power to protect the remarkable life in the deep sea from the relentless march of bottom trawlers. If it fails to act, it would be allowing these unknown worlds to be destroyed before we fully understand all the life they containlike blowing up Mars before we get there."

The extraordinary cold and depth of the high seas means that marine species grow and reproduce much more slowly than in warmer coastal seas. Instead of life cycles that span a few months or years, deep-sea fish like orange roughy can live 125 years. Deep water coral reefs can live for eight thousand years. Scientists warn these slow-growing species cannot readily recover from over-fishing.

Brazil, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Chile, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and many Pacific Island nations are among those that have called for a halt to unregulated high seas bottom trawling. Spain, Russia and Iceland lead the opposition.

On Friday Sept 30, US Senators Ted Stevens along with 20 other senior members of Congress introduced a resolution calling on the UN to stop unregulated destructive fishing practices on the high seas. "We hope the US Administration will follow suit by stepping up to lead the fight to stop unregulated high seas bottom trawling," said Lisa Speer.

This week's negotiations will effectively determine how the UN GA will decide the issue when it meets in November.

The DSCC is a Coalition of over 60 conservation and environmental organizations around the world, calling for a moratorium (interim prohibition) on high seas bottom trawling.


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