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Subject: Re: Deep Threats for High Seas
From: "Trevor J. Kenchington" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scientific forum on fish and fisheries <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 9 Aug 2006 21:17:00 -0300

text/plain (117 lines)

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> If you could, though, consider the following. It would seem to me  
> that no
> survey of damage to the benthos would be the least bit credible,  
> short of having
> a deep-sea submersible accompany a trawler to a remote seamount  
> that had been
> spared serious culling, and to take before-and-after surveys of the  
> same area.
> Would you know of any research organization with the funding and  
> interest to
> accomplish something like this? Is it likely to come to pass?

The funding and interest would not be a problem. The ethics of  
knowingly dragging through a seamount coral forest simply to confirm  
what is pretty clear already would be the daunting problem.

If you require such direct evidence before regarding a conclusion as  
being "the least bit credible", then I fear that you will have to  
discard almost everything that we think we know about the seabed  
impacts of fishing gears. Very, very little of it is that firmly  
established and (while I applaud your proper skepticism) I think that  
we can proceed with some reasonable inferences that are not so firmly  

The key study on the effects of trawling on seamounts was done by  
Tony Koslow, in Australia. The full report is:

Koslow, J.A. & K. Gowlett-Holmes (1998) The seamount fauna of  
southern Australia: Benthic communities, their conservation and  
impacts of trawling. CSIRO Final Report to Environment Australia and  
the Fisheries Research Development Corporation, FRDC Project 95/058:  

while the accompanying primary paper is:

Koslow, J.A., K. Gowlett-Holmes, J.K. Lowry, T. O’Hara, G.C.B. Poore  
& A. Williams (2001) Seamount benthic macrofauna off southern  
Tasmania: Community structure and impacts of trawling. Marine Ecology  
Progress Series 213: 111-125.

The weakness in that work, which may limit its credibility to some,  
is that all of the trawled seamounts had relatively shallow peaks,  
while all the untrawled ones were deeper (probably because the  
shallower ones were easier to fish). Those who wish to could argue  
that the absence of lush coral on the trawled seamounts was because  
they had a naturally-different environment. I don't think that that  
possibility can be dismissed but neither would I delay restrictions  
on the expansion of trawling to new seamounts while awaiting more  
definite knowledge. (There's that precaution creeping in again.)

> If not I can only imagine that as remote seamounts belong to no  
> nation, it's
> free pickings for whoever can get there first.

Whatever the scientific knowledge, seamounts beyond 200 miles from  
land remain open to pretty much anyone who can get there. In fact, if  
any nation tried restricting its own trawl fleet, we would likely see  
vessels re-flagged in some more accommodating nation (I think I  
remember Honduras filling that role for some tuna boats), so I guess  
we can say that anyone who really wanted to drag on seamounts could  
do so without meaningful management restrictions.

And that is, to me, the central argument for why deep bottom trawling  
outside national jurisdiction should be banned -- unless and until  
someone can come up with an effective management regime, as well as  
an adequate justification for a particular fishery.

> I'm heartened by the fact that
> you appear to be coming from the fishermen's side of the equation  
> and care
> deeply about sustainability.

Whether any fishermen would follow my lead from their side is more  
than I can say.

> But in the absence of precise quantitative data, is
> anyone likely to be dissuaded from  taking a "cut and run" approach to
> utilizing such life zones?

I doubt that those who wish to cut and run would be dissuaded by any  
data whatsoever. Indeed, I doubt that many of those who have an  
economic stake in believing that their fishing is sustainable are  
ever willing to accept that it is not, regardless of how persuasive  
the evidence may be. We are all human and human beings are remarkably  
adept at fooling themselves, rather than giving up on their dreams  
and ambitions.

But the makers of public policy have to choose between the soft  
desires of many people and the hard economic necessities facing a  
few. Too often, some pretty dubious "scientific" conclusions get used  
as crutches to justify disappointing one side or the other. Too  
rarely, firmly-grounded conclusions push a decision against the  
initial inclinations of those in power. That's about as far as  
scientific knowledge influences fisheries management.

Those who wish to can dismiss me as an old cynic. The age I cannot  
refute. My only defence on the charge of cynicism is that I get to  
live within the fisheries-management process every day and I have  
watched a lot of decisions getting made.

Trevor Kenchington

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