From: Irwin Arieff, Reuters
Published November 24, 2006 12:00 AM

U.N. Drive for Ban on Ocean Bottom Trawling Fails

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. negotiators failed to agree Thursday on a measure banning a fishing practice known as high-seas bottom trawling that environmentalists say chews up the ocean floor and depletes fish stocks.

Days of negotiations in a General Assembly committee on the world body's annual resolution on ocean fisheries ended in the early morning hours of Thursday with no deal on a bottom trawling ban in the face of strong opposition from a handful of fishing nations led by Iceland, conservation groups said.

The resolution is due to be taken up by the 192-nation General Assembly Dec. 7, minus strong language regulating bottom trawling.

But routine approval is expected as the membership of the assembly's legal committee, where the negotiations took place, is identical to the full assembly's.

"The international community should be outraged that Iceland could almost single-handedly sink deep-sea protection and the food security of future generations," said Karen Sack of Greenpeace International.

General Assembly resolutions, while not legally binding, carry great weight with governments as they reflect the will of the international community.

A bottom trawl is a cone-shaped net that is towed by one or two boats across the sea floor, as much as 4,600 feet below the surface, its pointed end retaining all the fish that are scooped up.

It can cause damage to extremely slow growing ecosystems, particularly coral reefs, and also depletes other marine life that is captured by the nets.

Eleven nations have high-seas bottom trawling fleets -- Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia and Spain.

The organisms that live in the benthic regions -- on the bottom of the sea -- can survive without light and tolerate low temperatures. The World Conservation Union says between 500,000 and 100 million species are thought to inhabit these areas.

Environmentalists have been lobbying for a U.N. moratorium on bottom trawling, arguing that the practice, while not in extensive use, is the most destructive of all fishing methods.

Australia, the United States, Britain, Norway, New Zealand, Brazil, India, South Africa, Chile, Germany, Canada and Palau were among nations supporting efforts to strictly regulate the practice, conservation groups said.

Source: Reuters

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