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Views on the News: Carbon footprint of trawling for fish equivalent to global aviation

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The ocean floor is a collector of the world’s carbon. These watery carbon sinks absorb more than 90 percent of the Earth’s heat trapped by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping this carbon locked in these depots is paramount.   

Trawling is the method of fishing whereby large nets are pulled from the back of a boat, collecting all in its path. Bottom trawling entails dragging heavy weighted nets across the seabed. This method is favoured as it collects a larger volume of fish at once. We already know that this means marine species other than those intending to be fished can become caught as a by-product. 

But new ground-breaking research has calculated for the first time the climate impacts of this fishing practice, showing that bottom trawling also produces carbon emissions on a level with global aviation.  

This human practice has reversed one of our Earth’s natural habits, causing the disturbed seabed it to throw back hundreds of millions of tonnes of stored carbon dioxide. The trawling emissions are also larger than the annual carbon footprint of all countries except the world’s top five emitters – China, the US, India, Russia and Japan. 

The study, published in the journal Nature, was written by an international team of marine biologists, climate experts, and economists. While the revelation is yet another blow to climate efforts, it notes that the solution isn’t out of reach. Eliminating 90 percent of the disturbance only needs 4 percent of the oceans being heavily bottom trawled to be protected. It is calling on countries with large industrial bottom trawl fisheries and large national waters to step up and reverse the consequences of their unsustainable practices.  

Higginson says 

The results of this new research have shown the shocking effect that commercial fishing is having on our oceans and planet. Without immediate action, the practice of bottom trawling will destroy an invaluable carbon sink and cause a disastrous loss of biodiversity – at a time when both are more important than ever. 

This further illustrates that climate issues and environment go hand in hand and protecting biodiversity is crucial to our shared prosperity. We must pay attention to these findings and call on nations to use their leadership positions to influence the global climate agenda by banning industrial bottom trawl fisheries. If we do not, the damage on our ocean and planet will be irreversible.

Charlotte Radcliffe, Senior Account Executive

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