|Driftnets are fishing nets
that are held on or just below the surface of a sea or lake.
Floats attached to a rope along the top of the
net and weights attached to another rope along the foot of the net
keep it vertical in the water. Their
height varies depending on the fish species they target, but it’s generally somewhere between
20 to 30 meters. Driftnets are often used to catch sardines, herring, albacore, swordfish and salmon, species that swim
close to the surface of the water.
Driftnet fishing is common worldwide, even though
the United Nations banned the practice in international
waters (more than 200 nautical miles from any coast)
in 1992. Supporters of driftnet fishing
argue that it’s cost effective, fuel efficient, and effective
at bringing in large amounts of fish in one catch. Opponents say the practice
has endangered many species,
caused environmental damage, and encouraged illegal fishing
habits. Should there be a worldwide ban on driftnets?
Any fish that crosses the path of a driftnet in the ocean may be tangled or caught in the
net. Non-target individuals caught in the
net are called by-catch. The United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) estimated that the global
by-catch rates are as high as 27 million tons of fish each year. Some
species caught as by-catch - including sharks, dolphins, whales, turtles,
sea birds, and other marine mammals - are now endangered.
As this practice has a disastrous impact on the oceans, it
must be banned.
Driftnets lost or abandoned at sea due to storms
causing strong currents, accidental loss,
or purposeful discard become ghost nets.
The nets, which are made of synthetic material, are resistant to rotting or breaking down.
Marine animals can easily become tangled in ghost nets. The float
line on the net allows it to be pushed in the current, which causes
ecological damage to plant life and
other habitats as the nets drag the sea floor.
By-catch isn’t the only problem of driftnets. The other problem lies
in the species they are intended to catch. These driftnets are so
effective that their use actually pushes these species to the brink of extinction. For example,
Bluefin tuna catches in the Mediterranean have dropped by over 80
percent, and many experts fear its extinction in the coming decade.
By-catch is not a valid reason to ban driftnets.
When used well, driftnets can be safe and effective. In addition,
by-catch can be limited by restricting the size of the
mesh in the net, so that
dolphins recognize the net as a wall
and thus avoid it. Attaching sound-devices that emit sounds to warn dolphins
can also save many of them. Limiting the overall length of driftnets,
as the EU has done, can also minimize by-catch. There
is also no evidence that driftnet fishing
is harming any endangered species. Other factors, such as pollution and coastal habitat
damage, are probably to blame. If we can strictly control and regulate the use of driftnets,
there’s no need to ban them altogether.
While it is important to protect our oceans, it’s
also important for fishermen to make a living. Fishermen rely on how much fish is
brought in, and they need to bring in a certain amount to make a certain
income. Fishermen need to
have the ability to use driftnets so that they can continue to catch enough
fish to feed the country. This is why in the 1980s, UNFAO recommended and even went
so far as to help with the use of driftnets in Bangladesh. There the
use of driftnets increased the number of fish caught by about 45 percent
and at a 40 percent lower cost, providing a vital means of subsistence to the locals.
The reports of extinction through over-fishing are inconclusive. In addition,
there is already a ban on the use of driftnets in international waters.
That should be enough. This provides fish with enough “breeding space” to recover from overfishing. If some countries
decide to overfish in their territories, then they have the right
to do so and the international community has no business intervening
in such domestic issues.