Did you know that governments around the globe pay $152 million annually to prop up destructive deep-sea fisheries?
Far below the surface of our oceans lie entire mountain ranges covered with ancient corals and unusual creatures. Though we once thought the deep sea to be barren, scientists and the fishing industry now understand that the deep sea is teeming with life, including many species that are found nowhere else. Scientists estimate that as many as 10 million species inhabit the deep sea, biodiversity comparable to the world’s richest tropical rainforests.
Recent advances in bottom trawl technology make it possible to fish the deep sea's mountain peaks, canyons and seabed. Stronger engines, bigger nets, and advanced navigational tools and fish-finding electronics allow fishing vessels to drag nets across the ocean’s floor as much as 1.2 miles (two kilometers) deep. As a result, well-capitalized fleets from a handful of wealthy nations roam the high seas of the world’s oceans, destroying some of the planet's last and most ecologically-rich frontiers in search of just a few fish and crustacean species.
Fragile deep-sea habitats, which have taken centuries to grow, are destroyed in hours by the sweep of bottom trawlers. Catch that is commercially valuable ends up in fish markets, restaurants and school lunches, while everything else is thrown overboard or discarded. Most of the species that are caught reproduce slowly—like 8,000 year old corals—so fishing them is little different from mining. It will take hundreds of years, if not longer, for deep-sea ecosystems to recover from this highly destructive fishing.
The United Nations General Assembly has called on all fishing nations to prohibit high seas bottom trawling that puts deep sea habitats and fish stocks at risk. The deep sea of the North Atlantic has the most heavily bottom trawled high seas area in the world and is exploited mainly by the fishing fleets of the European Union (EU). The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the global Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, is calling on the EU and other nations fishing the North Atlantic to abide by UN resolutions to which they have unanimously agreed, or stop deep sea bottom fishing altogether.