Archive for May, 2011

Ban Inshore Bottom Trawling

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Banning inshore trawling is possible. Hong Kong shows us the way.

Hong Kong is a small, contained region. Can it be a model? (

Inshore bottom trawling occurs along every coastline, and it does impressive damage. Despite some new interest in trying to make it sustainable, it is the most destructive of harvesting methods. It rakes and crushes the substrate, and it hauls up a huge, unwanted bycatch. Gear modifications intended to reduce that bycatch have been helpful, but it remains a discouraging and wasteful feature of the industry. Inshore bottom trawling also overwhelms other more sustainable, and more community-based forms of inshore fishing.

Really, it is beyond defense.

Hong Kong has many islands surrounded by shallow productive waters (

Hong Kong, with a population of about 7 million people living on a cluster of islands, has been a perfect region for inshore trawling for decades. The sea is shallow, just 10-20 meters deep, productive, and very accessible. Until now, there have been virtually no enforced fishing regulations. Fish and squid populations, abundant until the 1970s, have become badly depleted.

But now, this month, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has approved a ban on all trawling in inshore waters. The ban will not go into full effect until the end of 2012, and meanwhile the owners of the inshore trawlers will be bought out, and deckhands will be compensated.

Part of the Hong Kong fleet that will ber bought out (

Modellers at the University of British Columbia predict that within 5 years, populations of the squid and fish should increase considerably – squid by 35%, reef fish by 20 %, predator fish such as croakers and groupers by 40-70%. With WWF and Oceana involvement, and more or less supported by the fishing community, this initiative has taken just six years. There is a caveat, though – commercial fishing has to stop in Hong Kong’s designated Marine Protected Areas, and this has not yet happened.

A hang trawler at work (

Several other countries have also banned all inshore trawling – Venezuela and the Pacific Island nation of Palau in 2009, Belize in 2010 – though that meant just the buyout of the country’s 2 remaining trawlers. And elsewhere there are partial bans in effect – China has banned bottom trawling at depths less than 40m in the South China Sea, and no-trawl zones have been established along parts of the coasts of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Some of these zones are small, others not, and in some places enforcement is close to impossible.

So the Hong Kong example remains instructive. To get this far has taken 6 years, support from the fishermen, the efforts of at least two influential NGOs, the involvement of an experienced group of university fisheries modellers, and a government actually capable of taking action.

Inshore bottom trawling should be banned everywhere. At least we know that it is possible, and what it takes to make it happen.

Challenges for the Arctic Council

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

In the Arctic, the warming continues, despite the harsh winter of 2011 in much of North America: the extent of winter ice was less than the recent average once again, and the Great Melt continues. So what else is happening?

Arctic ice limits, winter 2011. The orange line represents the average extent of winter ice, 1977-2000. (

Time series of the extent of Arctic ice in 2011, compared with recent years. (

The Arctic Council meets this week at Nuuk, in Greenland, and an 8-nation treaty on search-and-rescue jurisdiction is going to be signed. This is, on one hand, an excellent step forward, as the nations agree who will have responsibility, and where, across the Arctic Ocean. The Globe and Mail has published a draft map of where the international boundaries will lie. Foreign Ministers from all but Canada will be there, including Hillary Clinton. Canada just lost its Foreign Minister in an election, and the health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will represent Canada: a nice little irony, as otherwise no aboriginal voice will be anywhere near the meeting.

A draft map of the international boundaries of jurisdiction for search-and-rescue responsibilities by nations sharing the Arctic Ocean (

On the other hand, almost all the contentious issues remain.

Who has rights to the extensive oil and gas everyone believes lie waiting to be tapped? All the participants signing the current treaty agree the boundaries they have drawn for search-and-rescue jurisdiction have little relationship with boundaries related to exploration and exploitation of gas and oil fields.

Oil companies, including Shell and Cairns, are extend their drilling in the Arctic, and you would think the memories of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the lessons learned, would ensure the best safety measures would be in place. They aren’t. The risks appear to be even greater. There will be spills in the Arctic Ocean, the pollution could be devastating, and there is little serious preparation in the works.

Who owns the shipping lanes? Does Canada own most of the Northwest Passage, and Russia almost all of the Northeast Passage? Canada and Russia assume so, but probably no one else does. China, South Korea and Japan all want a voice in such decisions, and are clamouring for at least observer status at Arctic Council meetings.

Fishing rights are barely on the table, yet the Arctic marine ecosystem is going to shift with the warming and the loss of ice. The moratorium of federal fishing in the US sector is helpful, and Canada appears to be about to do the same for the Beaufort Sea, but no international agreements yet exist.

The US has established a moratorium of ishing in Alaskan Arctic waters. (

The status of the US voice in all of this also remains ambiguous, for the US still has not ratified the UN Law of the Sea even though almost every other nation in the world has done so. Even the US military now wants that treaty ratified by the US, but fear of right wing criticism of anything related to the UN and to international treaties continues to prevent congressional action.

And what of the impact of the melting of the permafrost, the rising sea, and the other radical changes associated with the warming climate? What of the impending economic development of the Arctic? What of the Inuit communities ringing the Arctic? The absence of aboriginal representation raises familiar and disturbing questions.

Inuit cultures will soon be lost. Does it matter? (

So a little celebration could be called for – treaties like this are rare. But it is a very small step, and time is short.