As a winter returned for Rose's second shift in the North Sea this got her thinking about something else.. marine threats
My second shift onboard the KING Seaways seemed to fall over a second mini-winter. It so often happens in Northern Europe; after a brief period of good weather we all start to think its summer and then it gets cold again! However, there was brief respite, I was lucky enough to be out on deck with several passengers when a minke whale passed by very close to us. The next morning, we were seeing harbour porpoises glide out of mirror calm waters for over two hours and even spotted a grey seal being mobbed by gulls who made off with his fish! But when the bad weather returned and the conditions for cetacean spotting got worse again, my mind went back to the topic of my last blog; marine threats.
One that has been coming up a lot on this shift is demersal trawling. This is the most common type of fishing in the North Sea. Two beams with heavy ‘tickler’ chains suspended between them are lowered to the seafloor and dragged behind a fishing boat. The chains startle benthic, or seafloor living, fish upwards and straight into the net that is attached behind the beams. Some types of trawl are so heavy that they are furrowing into the ground – almost ‘ploughing’ the sea floor. Most people are aware this decimates sea floor life by crushing or damaging things like corals, sponges, plants and slow moving animals such as limpets but the damage goes even deeper. The practice can uncover burrowing invertebrates and the eggs they lay below the surface. It can also uncover and destroy rhizome root systems of plants making plant recovery even slower. The seafloor is flattened and smoothed out, removing micro habitats such as the shelter a rock can give from the current. This total and lasting destruction of an important habitat not only kills animals but removes food sources, egg laying areas and shelter. Furthermore, numerous studies show that where trawling is intense, and the seafloor doesn’t have proper time to recover then productivity in that area goes down; bad news for fishermen and bad news for fish eating cetaceans.
A replacement fishing technique is certainly needed for the incredibly damaging demersal trawler; despite the ecological havoc it causes the North Sea is ravaged daily by tens of these types of fishing boats and it is simply unsustainable in these times of ecological fragility.
Ecosystems are failing and the North Sea is just one example of a natural resource that is being unsustainably exploited. But the demise of the natural world will bring about our own end, regardless of whose side we were on. We cannot make this an issue based on nationality or political lines. Instead we must be educated on what is happening in our seas and our coasts in order to speak up for those that can’t before it really is too late.
ORCA Wildlife Officer - North Sea