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On Tuesday, November 16, the United Nations rejected the call for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. Instead, the UN approved new Oceans & Fisheries resolutions that relegate responsibility for high seas fisheries to member nations and regional coalitions.

The high seas: It is one of the last great ecological frontiers on Earth, one of the few we all share; the open ocean; the two-thirds of the planet's salt water outside of any national jurisdiction. You can guess what that means. In classic tragedy-of-the-commons style, the world's fishing nations have been hauling sea life out of these waters while avoiding any responsibility for oversight. In the last few years, we have begun to fish out high seas species and tear up ocean floor habitat faster than we can explore this most remote region of the Earth.

The greatest direct threat to high seas ecosystems is bottom trawling. (Bottom trawling, as marine conservationists and readers of this blog will know, is an incredibly destructive form of fishing. If you need a lesson, see our website.) In the past decade, industrial bottom trawlers have been advancing farther and farther from shore, driven by an insatiable public demand for fish and by the depleted fisheries in their wake. The problem, now, is that trawlers are dragging their nets over areas of the ocean bottom that we have yet to even explore - but which, we are finding out, are home to ecosystems as rich and diverse as any on land. Seamounts are the best example. The floor of the open ocean, far from the flat, barren moonscape we once imagined it to be, is riven with canyons and gorges and crisscrossed with chains of underwater mountains, or seamounts. Along their slopes, where ocean currents move faster and carry higher densities of nutrients, life thrives. And rather unusual life. Some seamount fish, like the orange roughy, live for 150 years. Slow-growing corals and sponges may hold great promise as pharmaceutical agents. Many of the species recently discovered on seamounts are completely new to science.

The trawlers, unfortunately, are beating the researchers to the seamounts, and the world is at risk of losing valuable ecosystems, not to mention commercially valuable fish populations, to their voracious nets. The severity of the threat has inspired a movement to stop it. An umbrella group of environmental organizations, operating as the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, has been pushing for a temporary halt to high-seas trawling. The time-out would give scientists a chance to develop a more comprehensive assessment of the situation, and the world a chance to put some kind of rational governance system in place.

Unfortunately, the coalition is up against formidable opposition. At this meeting of the UN, critics of the moratorium - led by Iceland and the EU (particularly Spain) - won out.

Not to be discouraged, the coalition will be working to raise awareness about high seas trawling over the coming year.  If the upwelling of support in the past few months is any indication of the movement's momentum, the UN General Assembly may vote differently in 2005.

You may know a lot about long lining, bycatch and sea turtles. You also followed Charlotte on her Mediterranean Sea adventure as a fisher-woman.

But do you know about bycatch of sea birds?

A recent study based on satellite tracking, released on Wednesday Nov. 10, shows "hot spots" where longline fishing trawlers and albatrosses cross paths. And the news is not good for the birds -- they are lured by the baited hooks and then drown.

How do you solve such a problem? As it happens, there may be a fairly low-tech solution:

Conservationists say that fairly simple measures can be used by longliners to reduce seabird mortality.

[Richard Thomas from Birdlife] said Brazilian fishermen use a colorful but effective technique that involves dyeing their bait two shades of blue.

Birds tend not to see blue but fish do. The first dye keeps the birds away but is water soluble and bleaches after the bait sinks. This leaves the fat-soluble blue dye which makes the bait more attractive to the fish, so both fishermen and birds win.

If you want to read the full article you can find it here.

Other links:

It has been announced everywhere and here it is: the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the new report on climate change. And what a report! I am actually reading it. I highly recommend it; and please send a copy to those who do not believe...

The Arctic Council called for this assessment, and it is the work of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, along with the International Arctic Science Committee. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment is divided into ten "key findings", and is easy to read as well as understand. These keys make for a good summary:

  1. Arctic climate is now warming rapidly and much larger changes are projected.
  2. Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications.
  3. Arctic vegetation zones are very likely to shift, causing wide-ranging impacts.
  4. Animal species' diversity, ranges, and distribution will change.
  5. Many coastal communities and facilities face increasing exposure to storms.
  6. Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources.
  7. Thawing ground will disrupt transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure.
  8. Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts.
  9. Elevated ultraviolet radiation levels will affect people, plants, and animals.
  10. Multiple influences interact to cause impacts to people and ecosystems.

If you want to know more about the marine environment, you want to read carefully key finding #4. The marine environment, the marine fisheries and the aquaculture in the region are dissected.

I will end with the beginning of their conclusion:

As the scientific results presented in this assessment clearly illustrate, climate change presents a major and growing challenge to the Arctic and the world as a whole. While the concerns this generates are important now, their implications are of even greater importance for the future generations that will inherit the legacy of the current actions or inaction. Strong near-term action to reduce emissions is required in order to alter the future path of human-induced warming. Action is also needed to begin to adapt to the warming that is already occurring and will continue. The findings of this first Arctic Climate Impact Assessment provide a scientific basis upon which decision makers can consider, craft and implement appropriate actions to respond to this important and far-reaching challenge.

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