It’s time to limit bottom trawlers

From: Times Colonist

Bottom trawling is an efficient way to scoop up a lot of fish. It is also often destructive and wasteful, and Canada should be acting now to protect much larger areas of the ocean floor.

Instead, Canada has fought international efforts to restrict bottom trawling. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been slow to protect even the most fragile areas at risk of permanent destruction.

The forests of remarkable deep-sea coral in the coastal waters north of Vancouver Island, for example, are effectively unprotected from the trawlers. Living Oceans Society is mounting an undersea expedition to study the coral. The society hopes that the research will help bring action from the DFO.

The $1-million expedition is valuable to extend scientific knowledge. But it should not be needed to persuade the Canadian government to do the right thing and protect these areas.

Bottom trawlers drag nets along the ocean floor. The nets are held open and weighted down with iron and wood frames that plow through the seabed. The plumes of mud and sediments, up to 27 kilometres long, can be seen from space. Changes to the water range from clouding, which kills plant life, to the release of pollutants. The seabed itself — and coral or shellfish or other life — are damaged.

And despite improvements, bottom trawling also produces a large amount of bycatch — fish, for example, not wanted commercially. They are dumped in the ocean, usually to die.

None of this is new, or even disputed. There is an international scientific consensus that the practice is environmentally destructive and wasteful. In 2006, the United Nations debated a ban on the practice. It failed to pass, in part because of Canada’s opposition.

Still, many countries have banned bottom trawling in their waters. The U.S. has ended the fishery on its Pacific coast.

But Canada has been slow to act, establishing only small protected areas.

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans representative says there is no need for quick action. Trawlers avoid the areas with coral because of the risk of damage to their equipment.

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