The damage done by fishing methods, principally trawling, to nature and marine species over the past 100 years is highlighted in a government-commissioned independent report by Henry Dimbleby looking into the strengths and flaws of the entire food system.
The report’s introduction reflects:
“Between 1970 and 2012, global marine biodiversity is estimated to have fallen by 49 per cent. That means that nearly half of all our marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish species have experienced a substantial loss in a relatively short space of time. No form of fishing has caused more harm than bottom trawling.
“Since the 1890s, when fossil fuel powered bottom trawling began, there has been a staggering decline in overall fish abundance. Cod landings have declined by 87 per cent, hake by 95 per cent. For halibut, the decline is a catastrophic 99.8 per cent. To put this in perspective, in the 1830s small sailing vessels around the Dogger Bank could catch a tonne of halibut per day. Today, all fishing across the entire Dogger Bank lands less than two tonnes of halibut a year.
“Recent research suggests that, as well as causing biodiversity collapse, stirring up the seabed releases large quantities of so-called “blue carbon” from marine sediments, which would otherwise remain locked away in the seabed.
“The UK is already proposing to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covering nearly half of the UK’s territorial waters. Similar preservation areas in Scotland and South Africa have seen fish stocks recover fast.”
Charles Clover, Executive Director of BLUE, said: “It is paramount that this report does not join the long list of excellent, informed, independent reviews that get put on a shelf. One of the report’s main areas of focus is the ‘invisibility of nature’ in food production and the need to embed sustainability in what we eat.
“Nowhere is this more important than in the seas where about 60 per cent of assessed UK fish stocks remain overfished and our marine protected areas have more fishing inside them then the surrounding seas.
“The sea has long suffered from the problem of being ‘out of sight and out of mind’ but the reality is that the marine environment is just as much in need of restoration as the terrestrial environment.”
Image: Trawled seabed on the Dogger Bank c/o Dutch Maritime Productions