What is bottom trawling? Destructive fishing practices are rife in Spain, new report says
A deeply destructive fishing practice is rife in Spanish waters, according to a new report from Oceana.
Activists of the NGO for the conservation of the oceans claim that 64% of Spanish marine protected areas are affected by “bottom trawling”.
It is one of the most damaging fishing methods in use today and involves dragging large weighted nets on the seabed. It is blind – scanning all marine life in its path as well as target fish.
Trawling goes against European legislation aimed at safeguarding the habitats of endangered marine species such as loggerhead turtles. The Natura 2000 network offers special protections to areas of both terrestrial and marine importance across Europe.
Spain claims to have protected 13 percent of its seas as part of the initiative. “However, this could be a mirage, because much of this surface is not protected in reality,” said Silvia García, senior marine scientist at Oceana in Europe.
“Our analysis shows that destructive fishing activities, such as bottom trawling, take place within supposedly protected areas, while such fishing is the main threat to seabed habitats.
“These absurdities also indicate a blatant violation of nature conservation law.”
As the recent investigation focuses on Spain, Oceana says the disturbing practice is occurring across Europe.
How serious is bottom trawling in the Spanish Natura?
Abandoned fishing gear inside Spain’s Natura 2000 sites paints a disturbing picture of what is happening under the sea.
Oceana found that bottom trawlers accounted for nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all fishing activity recorded in these areas, eclipsing small artisanal boats.
Using data from trawl signals from Global Fishing Watch, the NGO calculates that at least 404 vessels spent more than 73,100 hours scouring the seabed in 2020.
With the exception of the Canary Islands where there is no trawling, the affected areas cover 64% of the Natura 2000 areas intended to protect the seabed.
Ten marine protected areas in particular are heavily trawled, eight of which are located in the Mediterranean basin where huge fleets of trawlers roam.
Why is bottom trawling so destructive?
Bottom trawling not only kills marine animals by collecting them as bycatch, but it also indirectly affects the species by harming the ecosystem.
Shallow sandbars, seagrass beds, coral reefs and sea caves are some of Spain’s valuable marine habitats listed in the Habitats Directive (part of the Natura 2000 agreement) that trawls scrape .
Recognizing that a stronger approach is needed across Europe, MEPs voted in a new EU biodiversity strategy this year which calls on countries to protect 30% of their lands and seas.
For it to be effective, “we need the EU to push countries to open their eyes and recognize that sustainability is the only way to go and continue to ensure healthy seas,” García said.
“The first logical step is to ban bottom trawling in marine protected areas. “