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Biologists consider ban on trawling
UN plans for US will impact our fishermen
- The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA
By Winston Ross
The Register-Guard
COOS BAY - A group of the world's foremost deep-sea biologists hopes to make some waves on the international front, calling for what is sure to be a controversial ban on bottom trawl fishing to protect marine life and the global undersea environment.

They're meeting this week in Coos Bay, circulating a petition to present to the United Nations General Assembly in the coming weeks.

The ban is included among the group's recommendations to establish Marine Protected Areas on the high seas.

"There's an immediate threat to the biodiversity of seamounts, coral and other species from bottom trawling. A moratorium allows some breathing room," said Matthew Gianni, a biologist from the Netherlands who is among the scientists pushing for change.

The high seas account for 70 percent of the world's oceans.

Gianni suggested Tuesday that many countries around the world are complacent, paying little attention to the impact they have on the global deep-sea environment. Quoting a song by rock group R.E.M., he said: " `It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.' "

He's among 180 scientists from 25 countries at Southwest Oregon Community College for the 10th Deep Sea Biology Symposium, an event held every three years around the world. This year's sponsor is the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

Traditionally, the event has worked as any other symposium, allowing leading researchers to meet, discuss their latest findings and collaborate on upcoming studies.

But this year for the first time, the forum has a more political element, said professor Hjalmar Thiel of Hamburg, Germany.

As it stands, Thiel said, the U.N.'s Law of the Sea doesn't address the high seas at all, but it does allow amendments until 2004 - which creates some sense of urgency among the scientists.

"The basic idea is to come up with amendments so we can have a legal basis to protect certain areas," Thiel said.

The U.N. General Assembly has asked scientists to "consider urgently" the risks to the biodiversity of deep-sea ecosystems such as seamounts, also known as undersea islands, and cold-water corals.

According to the petition, the researchers concluded:

Many commercially important species

of deep-sea fish and corals upon which they thrive are depleted and their habitats severely damaged by the fishing industry, which drags trawl nets along the bottom.

Most deep-sea species live for long periods and grow slowly, making them more fragile and susceptible to ecosystem disturbance. The popular orange roughy is one such example.

As a result, the scientists will ask the United Nations next spring to halt all deep-sea bottom trawl fishing on the high seas.

Then, the scientists suggest, the U.N. should foster the study and protection of deep-sea environments by setting aside networks of "Marine Protected Areas" and "Science Priority Areas."

That could could lead to sweeping restrictions in trawl fisheries.

"It's a very big deal," said Craig Young, director of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. "But it's tied up in economics, as well. Many of these seamounts are supporting big time fishing. You have that factor working against conservation efforts.

"That's why it requires international cooperation."

The symposium continues today.

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