Posts Tagged ‘bycatch’

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.

(Not) Eating Shrimp

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

(Michael Berrill

Do you eat shrimp?

Few tastes are finer than that of freshly cooked shrimp. But shrimp are expensive to buy, and therefore valuable to fish for, or to farm. And because of their value, in many places a lot of damage is done in the process.

Where they are trawled up from the sea bottom where they aggregate, the trawls may do immense damage to the bottom ecosystems, and everything else caught by the trawls is thrown back as as dead or damaged bycatch. Sometimes 90% of the catch is bycatch, discarded because its value is too little, or because there is no market for it, or because the fishing vessel is licensed to catch shrimp only. The bycatch in global fisheries is staggering – it could be as high as 30% of the total catch – and the most wasteful fishery of all is shrimp trawling.

Shrimp farming might seem to be the solution, but shrimp farms have replaced mangroves in many tropical regions, and we now know just how valuable mangroves are as nurseries for juvenile fish, habitat for shrimp, and protection of coastlines from storm damage. Yet in many places, mangroves have been largely eliminated to make space for shrimp ponds. In the short term, the ponds seem just too valuable. In the long term, they have done more immense damage.

Shrimp farms well buffered by mangroves are a partial solution, for eliminating the farms is not a likely outcome. Strict regulations on bottom trawling help, for trawling can be controlled, even if it can’t be eliminated.

Even better is watching carefully what shrimp you eat. Large tiger shrimp? Avoid them. Farmed shrimp? If they come from mangrove regions, avoid them until mangroves are properly protected.

Instead, try the cold water shrimp – like the Oregon pink shrimp, and the North Atlantic or northern shrimp, with the lovely name of Pandalus borealis. They are smaller, but they are sweet, and they are really quite wonderful, particularly when lightly sauteed.

Both of these shrimp are recommended by two of the most helpful organizations involved in certifying which fish species are being fished sustainably, and which should be avoided. It’s worth checking either site to see what other species you ought to avoid, and which you should look for:

The Marine Stewardship Council –
Seafood Watch –

And it’s worth taking the list along with you to supermarkets and restaurants, and insist on buying or eating only species that have been certified as coming from sustainable fisheries.