Phasing Out Bottom Trawling in European Waters
The extensive use of bottom trawling by fishing fleets in European waters causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor than any other human activity. It is the most unselective and destructive fishing gear, and its continuous use has led to drastic and, in some cases, irreversible degradation of marine ecosystems. To add to this, it amplifies climate change.
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An area one third of Europe’s continent is impacted by bottom trawling every year. Bottom-towed gear is widely used in the EU, including inside Marine Protected Areas, with some studies indicating a higher intensity of trawling inside than outside protected areas. An Oceana study showed that destructive fishing, including bottom trawling, affects 86% of the area designated under Natura 2000 to protect marine habitats.
Bottom trawling method to catch fish. Its extensive use in commercial fishing is highly harmful for marine ecosystems, often resulting in irreversible damage to sensitive habitats (such as maërl beds, coralligenous reefs, deep-sea coral reefs, gorgonian gardens and sponge grounds). Bottom trawlers discard fish back into the water at high rates , often juveniles of both valuable species, and of species of low or non-commercial interest but which are nevertheless important for ecosystem balance .
Bottom trawls are so destructive and unselective because they effectively clear-cut, everything living on the seafloor, like bulldozers. Trawls drag large, heavy nets across extensive areas of the seafloor to catch fish, such as cod, shrimp, hake, sole and anglerfish, that live on or near the sea bottom. .
The serious damage caused by bottom trawling also impacts fragile ecosystems like cold-water corals. Once coral and sponge communities are destroyed, commercial fish and other species that depend on them for spawning, shelter, nurseries, protection and food, may also disappear.
In addition, bottom trawling is a climate change disaster. Not only is it very fuel-intensive, with an overall carbon footprint almost three times higher than non-trawl fisheries, but it also disturbs the seabed and releases large amounts of carbon stored in sediments into the sea.
Bottom trawling should have no place in MPAs. In 2021, over 170 000 Europeans signed our #banbottomtrawling petition, demanding an end to this destructive fishing practice in European MPAs. In December that year, Oceana handed the results of this petition to the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.
Oceana campaigns to transition away from destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling, calling to prohibit it in all MPAs, but also in other sensitive areas like the deep-sea and coastal zones. Phasing out bottom trawling is essential for transitioning towards more sustainable, low-impact, low-carbon fishing in the EU and for giving small-scale fishers preferential access to fishing areas, and thus helping to restore vibrant coastal communities.