Exposed! EU countries responsible for deep-sea destruction

European governments are turning a blind eye to the daily destruction of vulnerable deep-sea marine life by unregulated fishing vessels flying under European flags, according to a new Greenpeace report released this week

"Murky Waters: hauling in the net on Europe's high seas bottom trawling fleet" documents the destructive activities of high seas bottom trawlers observed fishing in the North Atlantic by Greenpeace in 2004 and 2005. Several of the vessels had been cited breaking the few rules that do exist in these fisheries, yet all continued to fish. All of the vessels observed were either owned by European nationals or fly the flags of European states.

High seas bottom trawling is recognised as the most destructive of all fishing methods. Using weighted nets, which are dragged across the ocean floor to catch and crush everything in their path, the practice leaves valuable marine habitats as wastelands and devastates vulnerable, slow-growing deep-sea fish stocks.

According to the Greenpeace report, only a few hundred ships are responsible for devastating huge areas of the world's oceans, with 60% of these vessels flagged to EU Member States, principally Spain, Denmark and France.

"European interests are fuelling what is recognized as one of the greatest threats to marine life: unregulated high seas bottom trawling" said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Sari Tolvanen. "The report shows that Europe is a leading deep-sea destroyer. This can and must change. European governments hold the key to the protection of deep-sea life: by supporting a United Nations moratorium on high seas bottom trawling these countries could ensure that these rich ecosystems are saved from ruin. The economic cost of a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling would be negligible compared to the protection provided to deep-sea life - which is priceless."

The report coincides with the ministerial-level OECD Task Force meeting on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, which is due to reveal how it plans to tackle the problem of pirate fishing.

Just last month, the twenty-five states that make up the European Union stood up at the United Nations and said that urgent action was needed to combat two of the biggest threats to marine life: destructive deep-sea fishing and illegal fishing. "Words are fine, but action is better," said Remi Parmentier of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, a consortium of more than fifty NGOs worldwide set up to promote a UN high seas bottom trawling moratorium. "The EU must now put its money where its mouth is and immediately announce that it will support the proposed United Nations General Assembly moratorium on high seas bottom trawling."

"The unregulated bottom trawlers exposed in the Greenpeace report are just one facet of a broader picture of destruction spanning all of the world's oceans. All of it leads back to the failure of governments to act effectively to regulate illegal fishing," San Tolvanen added

Earlier this week the Greenpeace ship Esperanza set sail from Cape Town, South Africa as part of the year-long 'Defending Our Oceans Expedition' to highlight the threats to the oceans and demand that 40% be declared no-take marine reserves, to safeguard marine life. Over the next few months, in partnership with the Environmental Justice Foundation, the Esperanza will expose how fishing pirates in the Atlantic are wiping out marine life and destroying the livelihoods of the communities dependent on our oceans for food.

The piratic behaviour of EU member states' fishing fleets is part of the knock-on effect of the disastrouc Common Fisheries Policy. Thirty years ago the seas around Europe will full of fish and coastal towns full of people who made a living from catching or processing them. Then came the CFP, bringing in its wake empty seas and coastal ghost towns.