Bush Seeks Ban on Destructive Fishing

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 3, 2006; 8:47 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush called for a halt to destructive fishing on the high seas Tuesday and said the United States will work to eliminate or better regulate practices such as bottom trawling that devastate fish populations and the ocean floor.

Bush directed the State and Commerce departments to promote "sustainable" fisheries and to oppose any fishing practices that destroy the long-term natural productivity of fish stocks or habitats such as seamounts, corals and sponge fields for short-term gain.

He said the U.S. would work with other nations and international groups to change fishing practices and create international fishery regulatory groups if needed.

The memo was issued a day before United Nations negotiations open in New York on an effort to ban bottom fishing anywhere it's unregulated. While Brazil, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa and, now, the U.S. have expressed support for regulating bottom trawling on the high seas, Spain, Russia and Iceland are among those that oppose it.

The U.S. allows but regulates bottom fishing in U.S. waters. The practice involves boats dragging huge nets along the sea floor scooping up orange roughy, blue ling and other fish while bulldozing nearly everything else in their path.

"It's like clear-cutting the forest to catch a squirrel," said Joshua Reichert, head of the private Pew Charitable Trusts' environment program, which has been leading an international coalition of more than 60 conservation groups against the practice.

"The White House ... has once again come out strongly in support of ocean conservation, proving that there is bipartisan support for ending the destruction of the worlds oceans," Reichert said.

Bush created a national monument in June to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters, an archipelago 1,400 miles long and 100 miles wide in the Pacific Ocean.

His position on high-seas fishing represents a last-minute shift going into an election, in part due to mounting pressure from the conservation groups, key Republican senators such as Ted Stevens of Alaska, Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia, and U.S. allies such as Britain, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.

A State Department document prepared in recent months for the eyes of foreign diplomats only had suggested that nations impose a ban on bottom trawling by 2009 _ but provided an easy out for any nation whose fleets want to continue using the gear.

The U.S. negotiating "non-paper," a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, unofficially proposed a ban on bottom trawling unless any nation "determines that its continuation in an area would not cause significant adverse harm."

The high seas _ which extend beyond nations' 200-mile offshore exclusive economic zones _ cover nearly two-thirds of the planet, yet only about 25 percent of it is subject to international treaties.

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