Woman saves seahorse from bottom trawl

Almost 1/4 of the world’s annual catch is from this bottom-drag activity – a process that scientists have described as “flattening” the ocean floor. This method can be traced back to the 14th century but technological advances in the second half of the 20th century allowed it to expand its range from shallow water to deep sea.

Amanda Vincent, a professor at the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia, Canada, has seen the devastation of bottom trawling during more than three decades of studying seahorses around the world.

“Consider your favorite forest or hillside and imagine helicopters dropping heavy ropes and cutting everything in their path, plowing the ground, but also destroying everything,” she said. bees, butterflies, birds, bushes and bears,” she said. “We’re not going to allow that on land, not for a minute, but this is what’s happening in the ocean all day, every day.”

“It just wreaks havoc and wreaks havoc on the ecosystem,” says Vincent. “It’s extermination fishing, pure and simple, and it has to stop.”

The Seahorse Project, a non-profit organization founded by Vincent in 1996, has contributed to the recognition of marine fish by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – an important milestone in the protection of seahorses and other creatures. other sea. Vincent is also credited with discovering a huge global seahorse trade – a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine – and her campaign led to global restrictions on the seahorse trade. Her next crusade is bottom pulling.
Seahorses were sold in Hong Kong in 2019, for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
More than 70 million won According to Project Seahorse, seahorses are fished every year with bottom trawls or other fishing methods, making fishing the biggest threat to the species.

“Most trawlers only catch one or two seahorses per boat per night (fishing style). It sounds like nothing,” she said, but continued “countries like Thailand or India exports five million seahorses a year, (so) it tells you something about the scale of those bottom trawl operations, because that’s how they catch the seahorses themselves.”

Impact on the ocean

A 2018 study estimated that about 19 million tons fish and invertebrates end up in the net of Ten thousand by bottom fishers around the world every year. Other research have found that bottom fishing accounts for nearly 60% of fish discards, with unwanted catch being thrown back into the ocean.
Over the past seven decades, bottom pulling has wasted 437 million tons of fish, according to another study, resulted in an estimated $560 billion in lost revenue.

“It’s made a tremendous impact on the world’s oceans,” said Juan Mayorga, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “For every kilogram of shrimp you can get 25 kilograms of random catch… There is no such thing as a selective bottom trawl.”

Catching shrimp on a fishing machine in Mexico.
As well as threatening fish stocks, a recent newspaper Co-author Mayorga studied the movements of more than 20,000 bottom trawlers worldwide and discovered that by dredging carbon-rich sediments on the ocean floor, they have carbon emissions comparable to those of carbon dioxide. global aviation waste.
absorbing ocean one third carbon emissions in the atmosphere, making the seafloor the largest storehouse of carbon on the planet.

“The first meter of the seafloor stores twice as much carbon as all terrestrial land combined.” Mayorga said. “So it’s a huge, huge, huge carbon sink.”

Damage reduction

Mayorga says the number of bottom trawlers has skyrocketed in recent years, partly due to fuel costs and some changes that have made the industry less destructive, such as modifying equipment to reduce catches and allows species such as sea turtles to escape, but he added that these measures have not been widely adopted.

Green Nature Alliance aims to restore 7 million square miles of ocean in 5 years
Vincent said one of the most effective ways to reduce damage is to finish government subsidies, which researchers say plays an important role in supporting the industry. They say deep-sea fishing would not be globally profitable without them.

Vincent found “big hope” in global commitments to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030 by implementing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where fishing is heavily regulated or banned. . The Seahorse project has helped establish 35 MPAs across the Philippines, whose archipelago is home to 10 of the 46 known species of seahorse.

But for Vincent there was always more work to do.

Although bottom trawling is currently the biggest threat to seahorses, Vincent says they are also increasingly at risk from habitat destruction and climate change. “They’re really a harbinger of things to come when you look at the fate of seahorses right now.”

“The ocean is everything to us – 99% of the space on Earth where life is possible is in the ocean,” Vincent adds. “We’re basically using seahorses to help save the seas. If we get it right with these fun little fish, we can do a lot for the ocean.”


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