Trawling Blamed for Loss of Corals; Call to Halt Destructive Fishing Seen as 'Pretty Ridiculous'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

Trawling Blamed for Loss of Corals; Call to Halt Destructive Fishing Seen as 'Pretty Ridiculous'


Byline: Grant Schulte, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Large fishing operations that skim the ocean floor with 1-ton nets are causing "massive" destruction to a little-known form of cold-water coral important to the world's fish population, according to a report released yesterday.

The damage from rock hoppers large rubber rollers designed to keep nets that can stretch 40 feet tall and 200 feet wide from snagging on rocks destroys fish habitats that help power the seafood industry, said the report by Oceana, a Washington-based nonprofit marine conservation group.

The trawling's effect is roughly similar to racing several monster trucks across the sea floor, said Michael Hirshfield, Oceana's chief scientist.

"If you're a baby fish and you're trying to hide from something that's trying to eat you, do you want the sea floor to be barren or filled with thousands of hiding places?" he said.

Mr. Hirshfield also said the loss of the bottom-dwelling organisms that make up coral undermines efforts to discover beneficial uses for it.

"We are finding that new chemical compounds increasingly are being prospected for in the deep oceans. Many of these chemicals are produced by deep-sea corals ... good chemicals, possible treatments for diseases. And we are in danger of losing these corals before we can even name them."

Oceana's 16-page report, titled "Deep Sea Corals: Out of Sight, But No Longer Out of Mind," recommends halting the expansion of trawling used to catch shrimp, cod or flounder; closing trawled areas with known coral and sponge concentrations; and stepping up enforcement of laws that protect them.

But cutting bottom trawling would deal the fishing industry's economy an "absolutely devastating" blow, said Jerry Schill, executive director of the North Carolina Fisheries Association Inc. …

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