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