Conservation groups call on State to reduce trawling on coastal waters

Published by Leigh McGowran on

July 14th, 2018

Leading conservation groups have called on the Government to urgently limit trawling within Irish coastal waters due to the negative environmental and economic impacts caused.

Responding to a public consultation on trawling activity inside the six nautical mile zone, the groups noted various environmental and economic risks that current levels of trawling pose.

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) wants to completely prohibit trawling within the zone, regardless of vessel size.

Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) has called for all trawling vessels over 15 metres in length to be excluded from the zone, as well as the prohibition of all trawling within three nautical miles of our coasts.

Pair Trawling Infographic: Ecomare/Oscar Bos

Pair Trawling Infographic Sourcer Ecomare/Oscar Bos

Environmental impact

The IWT submission states that our coastal zones are lacking in marine life due to bottom and mid-water pair trawling.

The submission notes that while inshore fishing for herring, cod and mackerel no longer takes place, 62 per cent of sharks and ray face extinction.

A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America showed that repeatedly trawling the seafloor cuts biodiversity by 50 per cent.

The study also points to reduced animal life in the sediment by up to 80 per cent from repeated trawling, which the researchers said is a major threat to deep seafloor ecosystems globally.

The IWT submission says that most of the seas around Ireland are trawled at least once a year, and up to 10 times a year in some parts.

IWT says the indiscriminate nature of trawling is directly responsible for the collapse of many common fish populations in Irish waters, such as cod, sole, whiting and turbot.

Pádraic Fogarty, IWT’s Campaigns Officer, welcomed the fact that restrictions are being considered by the Minister for the Marine, Michael Creed, TD and said that they are calling for all trawling to be prohibited “as a matter of urgency”.

“Such a move provides an enormous opportunity to allow for the recovery of marine life, the celebration of a healthy ocean and truly sustainable coastal communities.”

Birdwatch Ireland’s submission calls for management plans to be made to protect important species vulnerable to overfishing, such as herring and sprat.

Fisheries targeting of these small “forage fish” can have a large impact on the marine ecosystem, the group said, affecting seabirds and large predatory fish that depend on them for food.

Policy Officer at BWI Birdwatch Ireland, Fintan Kelly, told The Green News that there is currently no monitoring of our stocks of sprat, and that a management plan is possible.

fishing nets Photo: DODODT

Economic Issues

Mr Kelly said that improving the viability of Irish fishers in this zone would help to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by easing the economic burden on our fishing fleet.

Ireland has an international target to have 10 per cent of its marine area protected by 2020. However, only 2.3 per cent of our seas are currently MPAs, one of the lowest percentages in Europe.

Studies have shown MPAs can increase the yield of fisheries, increasing the number and size of fish caught over time.

Over 80 per cent of Ireland’s registered fishing vessels are less than 12 metres in length and are completely dependent on the 6nm zone for their income, BWI said.

Despite receiving only 2.6 per cent of their income from our inshore waters, vessels larger than 18 metres account for 66 per cent of all fish caught there, BWI’s submission reads.

Excluding large trawlers from our inshore waters would improve the viability of most fishers in Ireland, the group said, adding that more measures are needed to create a sustainable fishing sector.

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Leigh McGowran

Leigh is a final year Journalism student at DCU with interests in the environment, radio presenting and film reviews.