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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bulldozing the Bottom of the Sea

It is a wonderfully clear expression, used by a U.S. biologist about the impact of bottom trawling. "Imagine using a bulldozer to catch songbirds for food — that's what it's like," marine biologist Sylvia Earle says. "After a trawler has gone by, it looks like a superhighway, it's just flat. Nobody's home. A few fish may swim in and out but the residents, those that occupy the substrate, they're just smothered, they're crushed. It's like paving them over."
Perhaps it is the kind of comparison we should consider more often — after all, the oceans have been a case of out of sight, out of mind for far too long. We've dumped our sewage into the sea for generations, and have used it to dispose of everything from offshore drilling fluid to munitions.
We have dragged bottom trawls back and forth across it so many times that it is — as it was earlier this year — a small miracle when scientists actually find an untouched area of bottom corals.
We have continued to believe that the greatest harm to the sea has been the fishing vessels that bob on the surface, and their ever-shrinking catches. But we regularly draw the line at questioning the role of our methods of fishing.
Consider, for a moment, an on-land comparison. Imagine that you were hunting rabbits, and you knew that they particularly liked living and eating in alder thickets. You could create a system that knocked over all the alder trees and netted up all the rabbits, and that would work really well the first year you used it. The second year, there would be no alder trees and, frankly, no rabbits at all.


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