Four fishing companies have agreed to halt bottom trawling in parts of the southern Indian Ocean, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said on Thursday, but environmental group Greenpeace said the deal was a smokescreen.
WELLINGTON Four fishing companies have agreed to halt bottom trawling in parts of the southern Indian Ocean, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said on Thursday, but environmental group Greenpeace said the deal was a smokescreen.
New Zealand's Sealord, Australia's Austral Fisheries Pty Ltd, Bel Ocean II Ltd from Mauritius and Namibia's TransNamibia Fishing Pty Ltd, are the main trawling operators in the southern Indian Ocean, the Switzerland-based IUCN said in a statement.
"Such deep-sea habitats are among the least-known areas of the oceans and by pledging not to fish in them, these companies have taken a great step towards sustainability," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, the IUCN's head of the global marine programme.
The IUCN said the Southern Indian Ocean Deepwater Fisheries Association, a group set up by the companies, had identified 11 areas covering 309,000 square kilometres, an area roughly the size of Norway, that would be off limits to their vessels.
Greenpeace, however, repeated calls for the practice to be subject to a United Nations-imposed worldwide moratorium.
Bottom trawling involves towing a net along the sea floor, as much as 1400 metres (4,600 feet) below the surface, which can cause damage to extremely slow growing ecosystems, particularly coral reefs.
Deep-sea fish species, like the slow growing orange roughy and oreos, are caught up in the nets above the sea floor.
The organisms that live in the benthic regions -- on the bottom of the sea -- can survive without light and tolerate low temperatures. IUCN said between 500,000 and 100 million species are thought to inhabit these areas.
"These bottom trawlers are out there 24 hours a day bulldozing life on the deep-sea floor," said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Mike Hagler. "Scientists have warned that species are being pushed to extinction before they are named.
"It is unlikely the areas proposed for closure in the Indian Ocean will represent all the areas at risk from bottom trawling."
Hagler added Greenpeace thought the regions closed by the companies may be too deep to trawl anyway, or have already been overfished with little left to catch.
A Greenpeace report in March said that 40 percent of the world's oceans should be placed in nature reserves.
Just 0.6 percent of the oceans are protected reserves at present, compared with 12 percent of the world's land, according to U.N. data.