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Greens applaud companies halting high-seas trawls

Written by: Staff

JOHANNESBURG, July 6 (Reuters) Conservationists today welcomed the first voluntary halt to high-seas trawling by four major fishing companies in the southern Indian Ocean, saying the move was vital to protect marine ecosystems.

The companies -- Austral Fisheries Pty Ltd of Australia, Bel Ocean II Ltd of Mauritius, Sealord Group of New Zealand and TransNamibia Fishing Pty Ltd of Namibia -- have pledged not to trawl in eleven deep-sea areas of the southern Indian Ocean.

They are the main trawling operators in the region.

''This will protect and conserve the bottom of the sea floor ... associated fish fauna and related biodiversity in one of the largest marine protected area enclosures ever,'' the Swiss-based World Conservation Union said in a statement.

''The combined zones have an area approximately the size of Norway. To verify compliance with these self-adopted restrictions, the companies will track their vessels' locations and activities via a special satellite monitoring system.'' The plight of the seas has been high on the green agenda in recent years, with activists and even consumers demanding that fishing fleets show more responsibility.

The United Nations estimates that as much as 75 percent of the world's fisheries have been pushed to their limits and fleets are now trawling increasingly remote areas or plying the coastlines of poor regions such as Africa in search of stocks.

Bottom trawling is regarded as a particularly destructive activity as it damages the ocean floor, corals and other fragile habitats. It also tends to be indiscriminate, usually scooping up virtually every living creature in its path.

''By not fishing in these areas, which span the southern Indian Ocean, their deepwater corals and the accompanying fauna will gain protection in one of the least explored and unutilized deepwater areas of the world,'' the World Conservation Union said.

''Such deep-sea habitats are among the least known areas of the oceans and by pledging not to fish in them, these companies have taken a great step towards sustainability,'' said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of the Global Marine Programme of the World Conservation Union.

Commercially-exploited deep-water fish species in the region include the very slow-growing orange roughy.

Piracy is another problem in remote southern seas with the highly endangered Patagonian toothfish a frequent target of high-seas poachers. The fish has been dubbed ''white gold'' because of the high price it fetches in exclusive restaurants.


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