It’s Time to Throw in the Trawl

Les Watling is a professor at the University of Hawaii who is simultaneously one of the leading experts on two very different types of organisms–deep-sea crustaceans and corals.  His work has revealed key information about the ecology and evolution of both of these groups.  His publication and citation rates are so high they make other scientists weep.  Yeah…Les is kind of a science badass.

But today Les propelled himself to Samuel L. Jackson levels of badassery.  At Nature, he attacks, and rightly so, deep-sea trawling in an article titled “Deep-sea trawling must be banned.”  No waffling here.

Not “trawling is bad.”

Not “here are some negative effects of trawling.”

Not “lets reconsider trawling.”

Not “lets hold hands, sing songs, and think about trawling.”

Open the missile silo doors, count to three, turn the double keys, and push the button.

This month, the European Union votes on a proposed ban of deep-sea bottom trawling.  An unprecedented but greatly needed move.  Of course industrial fishing lobbyists are fighting this with everything in their arsenal.

Lobbying groups have threatened legal action against scientists for publishing data deemed to be critical of the industry. The EU Fisheries Committee includes Members of the European Parliament from French, UK and Spanish areas in which deep-sea fishing vessels are docked. These ties have slowed the committee’s consideration of the proposed ban to a crawl: it has postponed its vote by several months from the originally scheduled date. By contrast, the EU environment committee, which is not so dominated by members from fishing ports, voted 58 to 1 in favour of the ban in March.

…The fishing lobby has published a series of influential pamphlets that start with the famous phrase “the inconvenient truth”. In essence, the pamphlets suggest that it is possible to use a lighter version of trawling equipment to trawl in the deep sea without doing much damage; that stocks of the target species are not being depleted; and that non-target catch is made up of just a few abundant species that are not in any kind of trouble. Many of the ‘truths’ listed are quoted by European politicians.

And this is where Les brings the pain.

[These claims] are bunk….As such, responsible scientists cannot let these claims go unchallenged. Here is a rundown of why the assertions are wrong.

Les goes on to obliterate all three of the claims above.  Please go read the article and see a master dismantle the rhetoric. Its like watching one of those old kung-fu movies where the kung-fu master takes down 12 guys without breaking a sweat.

There are so many choice quotes, but my favorite in response to lighter versions of trawling equipment

By analogy, it makes no difference if you are run over by a small car that weighs one tonne or a large truck that weighs several tonnes. The flesh of the body is no match for the strength of steel, however light the equipment.

Of course Les doesn’t stop with the science but goes after dodgy claims about the economics too.

Since 2004, the three companies involved have received about €15 million (US$20 million) [in subsidies] but showed more than €11 million in losses.

Cocktail Week at DSN doesn’t start until Sunday, but everyone raise your drink up to Les Watling.

Dr. M (1623 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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9 comments on “It’s Time to Throw in the Trawl
  1. I am so happy he wrote that! I get upset when people say scientists must not corrupt their objectivity by taking a stand for something. If that stand is grounded in research and evidence, then by all means a scientist should be allowed to voice it strongly. I hope the EU community reads and considers Dr. Watling’s argument.

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  3. Les has been working with this for 30 years and has almost single handedly taught us how harmful trawling is to the shelf. He is the rare bird – a great scientist working on a critical conservtion issue who knows how to finish and isn’t ego involved. We miss him in New England. #bertnesslab

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