• What Are 'Supertrawlers'?

What Are 'Supertrawlers'?

Oct 22 2020 Read 363 Times

So-called ‘supertrawlers’ are huge fishing vessels capable of harvesting thousands of tonnes of fish in a single expedition. These gargantuan vessels are defined as ones over 100m long, but they can measure almost 150m long and 20 feet wide and weigh up to 10,000 tonnes, as well as tow nets up to a mile long. As well as decimating fishery stocks in UK waters, they could be endangering other marine populations such as dolphins, sharks and tuna.

At present, the UK does not own any supertrawlers, but that hasn’t stopped several of the vessels being spotted in British waters in recent years. Just last month, two Dutch-registered ships were found to be fishing off England’s southern coast, while the time that supertrawlers spent in UK waters in the first six months of this year was already almost double the total tally of 2019.

An “ecological disaster”

In September, two Dutch vessels known as Afrika and the Willem Van Dee Zwan were discovered in the English Channel. Weighing 7,127 tonnes and 9,494 tonnes respectively, these huge ships can emit significant amounts of pollution into the atmosphere at a time when the UK is targeting improved maritime air quality. Even worse, they can have disastrous impacts on the marine life which resides in the surrounding waters.

For starters, the trawlers are so immense that the yields they produce are not sustainable for the future of the British fishing industry. Moreover, they can also inadvertently cause significant damage to other species in a practice that is innocuously termed “bycatch”. This refers to the accidental capture of animals such as dolphins, rays, sharks and whales and can be devastating to local populations, especially when some of those are already under threat.

For example, supertrawlers again entered British waters last September and October. Shortly after, three common dolphins, one harbour porpoise and a further unidentified cetacean washed up dead on the English coastline. Given that experts estimate a mere 10% of bycatch finds it way to the shoreline, the actual number of animals impacted by supertrawlers is thought to be far higher.

Legislative action needed

In addition to a more analytical approach to marine fuel standards, campaigners are also clamouring for supertrawlers to be banned from UK waters altogether. Those calls have been even more vociferous this year after a Greenpeace investigation revealed that supertrawlers spent 5590 hours fishing in 19 protected zones of the UK in the first six months of 2020. That’s almost double the entire total from the 12 months of last year put together, at 2963 hours in 39 protected zones.

“Even one hour of a supertrawler fishing in a protected area is too much, let alone thousands,” explains Chris Thorne of Greenpeace UK. “What’s more concerning is the time they spend fishing in our protected areas has almost doubled every year since 2017. Some in the fishing community have attributed this rise to Britain’s impending departure from the Common Fisheries Policy.”

Thorne points to the fact that while the Conservative government claim to be champions of protecting our waters and insist that leaving the EU will grant them greater powers to do so, they recently vetoed an amendment to the current Fisheries Bill which would prohibit supertrawlers from entering British waters altogether. The government continue to assert that sustainable fishing will comprise a key component of their future fisheries policy.

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