Nations To Limit S. Pacific Trawling

Associated Press
Saturday, May 5, 2007

More than 20 nations agreed yesterday to discourage unregulated and destructive bottom trawling in the South Pacific, a victory for environmental groups.

The agreement, which takes effect Sept. 30, is intended to protect deep-water corals and other vulnerable ecosystems across about one-quarter of the world's high seas, in an area extending roughly from the equator to the Antarctic Circle and from Australia to the west coast of South America.

Observers and ship locator systems will be used to keep vessels at least five nautical miles from vulnerable areas.

The agreement reached in ReƱaca, Chile, follows a United Nations General Assembly resolution in December aimed at getting tough on high seas bottom trawling, in which fishing boats drag giant nets along the sea floor.

The nets are effective at catching fish, but they wipe out almost everything in their path, smash coral and stir clouds of sediment that smother sea life.

Orange roughy is the main commercial fish in the South Pacific high seas; it is mainly caught by New Zealand fishing vessels. Estimates of the economic value of the fishing trade range up to about $10 million.

New Zealand officials agreed to the voluntary restrictions but said the limits could "severely constrain" the nation's fishing vessels. The ecological costs of the huge nets are far higher, environmental groups said.

"This area contains thousands of these underwater sea mountains, or seamounts, that are considered to be some of the most ecologically rich habitats in the world," said Joshua Reichert, director of the private Pew Charitable Trusts' environment division, which coordinated the groups' campaign.

A U.N. report last year called bottom trawling a danger to unique and unexplored ecosystems.

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