Large areas of Arctic seabed damaged by trawlers

Trawlers damage major areas of the Arctic seabed. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The Norwegian marine researchers that set out on an Arctic expedition this summer expected to find large areas of untouched seabed. But the actual situation was quite the opposite.

The studies that were conducted with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) showed deep wounds made by trawl bags over large parts of the area, the Norwegian Marine Research Institute informs.

“In the most popular fishing grounds we discovered tracks from the trawl bags over 52 percent of the studied area,” says marine researcher and head of expedition Pål Buhl-Mortensen.

“In total, we studied 233 sites at various depths and overall we found trawl tracks over 35 percent of the area,” he adds.

The damages in the seabed were found at depths down to 900 metres. The areas worst affected were located at between 200-400 metres depths. In some of the areas there were tracks every three metre,  Buhl-Mortensen explains.

The damages come when fishing vessels pull the trawl bags across the seabed to catch shrimp and other marine species.

The consequences for the local marine life are dramatic. Many of the species living on the sea bottom are considered endangered and they are very vulnerable to external pressure, the marine researchers say.

Some of the damages are believed to stretch back to the 1970s.

There are fishing vessels from a number of countries operating in the area. The biggest share of them are from Russia.

During the expedition, the researchers themselves experienced the pressure from the trawlers. “At times we were surrounded by trawlers of different nationalities, among them from EU countries, Norway and Russia,” Buhl-Mortensen says.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada announces investments to tackle illegal fishing and discarded fishing gear, Radio Canada International

Greenland: Nine countries and EU set to sign ‘historic’ agreement to protect Central Arctic Ocean, Radio Canada International

Norway: Ice-Blog: Arctic off limits for giant trawlers?, Irene Quaile

Russia: Russia’s Arctic nuclear dump could become promising fishing area, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Alaska’s Bering snow crab, king crab seasons cancelled, The Associated Press

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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