In the deep sea northwest of the UK, bottom trawlers are destroying ancient and mostly undiscovered ecosystems. They are part of an unsustainable fishing industry kept afloat by EU taxpayer subsidies.
In the deep, life moves slowly, but it’s far from boring. Graceful corals that have taken thousands of years to grow, harbour an array of weird and wonderful creatures. Deep sea species grow and reproduce very slowly, so populations can’t recover as fast as they are fished. The orange roughy for instance, lives up to 150 years and the gulper shark produces only one or two pups from a two-year long pregnancy.
These vulnerable species are being decimated by bottom trawlers that use giant nets (some with openings the size of football fields) to capture every living thing in their path. Corals and sponges are obliterated as heavy steel doors and rollers are dragged across the seabed.
A third to two thirds of the haul is thrown back unwanted, dead and dying. These methods would never be allowed on land: imagine dragging a huge net across the countryside, crushing trees and plants and scooping up wildlife to catch a few cows, leaving a barren, harrowed field to dump the unwanted corpses on.
The consequences of bottom trawling are dire: all deep sea species caught by the EU are classified as overexploited. As highlighted in our recent report, Spain and France are the two major players in this destructive practice in the North Atlantic, taking 38 and 31 percent of the EU’s deep sea catch.
And under a failing European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), these bottom trawling fleets receive hundreds of millions of euros in subsidies from taxpayers – funding that enables them to bulldoze the deep sea. Overall, Spain receives the most subsidies for its fishing fleets - 1 billion euros in the current allocation - despite a history of industrial corruption and illegal practices, as we recently exposed.
Crucially, the CFP is under reform and it must put right its wrongs. The new CFP must end the destructive and unsustainable fishing practices that it has perversely enabled. Instead, it should support sustainable, low impact, small-scale fisheries, which form the backbone of coastal communities.
We need to pressure Europe’s politicians to stop using our taxes to destroy the seas and start putting the future of the oceans and the people that rely on them first.
Please take action now – send a message to our Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, asking him to call for a full audit into the €1 billion in subsidies that have been awarded to Spain under the broken CFP.