20 September 2005

UK: Lost nets prove death traps for rare sharks

A "GHOST" fishery in the deep waters off the west coast of Scotland and Ireland is causing incalculable damage to vulnerable species of shark, delegates at a key fisheries conference will be warned this week.

Hundreds of miles of lost and discarded nets, left to drift on the slopes of the Atlantic, are death traps for fragile stocks of deepwater sharks, according to a report to be presented at the conference in Aberdeen of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.

Its authors are calling for action to be taken to manage the uncontrolled fishery to prevent an ecological disaster.

The report by scientists at the Marine Institute in Iceland, Britain's Sea Fish Industry Authority, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and the Irish Marine Institute, reveals that since the mid 1990s a fleet of up to 50 vessels have been using "gill nets" to enmesh fish on the continental slopes to the west of the Scottish and Irish coasts and to the north of Shetland.

The vessels, though mostly based in Spain, are registered in the UK, Germany and countries outside the EU.

The boats, fishing at depths of between 200 and 1,200 metres, are targeting lucrative monkfish stocks and deepwater sharks, such as the Leafscale gulper shark and the siki shark, also called the Portuguese dogfish.

The report says the vessels together have up to 5,400 miles of gill nets at sea at any one time and leave them drifting for up to ten days. But gear is being lost and nets deliberately dumped, creating a deadly "ghost" fishery.

It says: "Essentially these fisheries remain totally unrestricted.

"The nets are left fishing unattended and hauled every three to ten days. The amount of fishing gear used, and the fact that the nets are unattended much of the time, make it very likely a large quantity of nets are lost, while there is also evidence of illegal dumping of netting.

Action is urgently needed to properly monitor and control these fisheries."

Source: news.scotsman.com


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