Greenpeace propose Marine Reserve to protect fragile Arctic area linked to fishing

The Guardian reports, 3rd March 2016: Major British food brands and supermarkets buying cod from Arctic waters risk having their supply chain “tainted” because of links with fishing further north in the Arctic, Greenpeace has warned.

An investigation by the group has revealed that suppliers of cod to Birds Eye, Findus and Young’s are using controversial giant bottom trawlers in the northern Barents Sea around Svalbard, an area deemed by scientists to be ecologically significant. At least

70% of all the Atlantic cod that ends up in supermarkets around the world is from the Barents Sea, but Greenpeace said its evidence of fishing further north — while not illegal — could damage fragile ecosystems. Importantly, it would also undermine commitments to sustainable fishing practices designed to reassure consumers and prominent on packaging and labelling.

Greenpeace propose Marine Reserve

This vessel was photographed operating in Bellsund within the borders of the national park on the west coast of Spitsbergen.
Photograph: Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace

Greenpeace researchers used satellite data and field work to track an increasing number of bottom trawlers — often dubbed giant “bulldozers” — operating in the northern Barents Sea. The region, which includes the Svalbard archipelago, is home to vulnerable species including the polar bear, bowhead whale and Greenland shark.

“Climate change is opening up whole areas of the Arctic for the very first time,” said Greenpeace campaigner Trillia Fidei. “Some companies see this as a business opportunity, but we think it’s a chance to protect a fragile ecosystem before it’s too late. We cannot destroy a marine environment that we don’t even understand.

“Some of the world’s biggest seafood brands are unwittingly buying cod from this vulnerable area. We’re asking them to get tough with their suppliers to ensure the northern part of the Barents Sea is off limits to giant fishing bottom trawlers.”

Experts consider bottom trawling to be a highly destructive fishing method, which is already responsible for damaging up to half of Norway’s cold water corals reefs.

Marine conservation biologist Prof Callum Roberts said: “Over the last 200 years it has converted once rich and complex seabed habitats to endless expanses of shifting sands and mud. Areas of the Arctic protected by sea ice represent one of the last pristine refuges from trawling and need urgent protection to prevent them from suffering the same fate.

Greenpeace is calling on fishing companies to stop fishing in the northern Barents Sea and the waters around Svalbard, and for retailers, food brands and processors to sever links with suppliers that engage in destructive fishing in this region. It is also urging the Norwegian government to create a marine protected area there.

A statement issued on behalf of frozen fish brands Birds Eye, iglo and Findus — all part of the same group — said the investigation raised important issues which would be explored further.

“We pride ourselves in having taken leadership in driving long-term sustainability within fisheries over the last 20 years. All our brands use cod and haddock from a variety of responsibly managed fisheries. All fish from the Barents Sea, like all the white fish we source, is MSC-certified. The MSC certification of the Barents Sea cod and haddock fishery means that this is managed according to a set of internationally agreed responsible fisheries management principles. These take into account the fishery stock status and the impact on the ecosystem. The Greenpeace report raises important issues and we will examine this very carefully with regulators, industry experts and NGO partners.”

The trade body Seafish, which represents the UK’s fish and chip shops — also supplied by fish from the area — said the Barents Sea was one of the most well-managed regions in the world.

Seafish technical director Tom Pickerell said: “We are already working with some key suppliers to provide them with further scientific data on this issue and inform their understanding of the extent of the sea ice and fishing grounds in the north Barents Sea and any trends in northward migration of fish.

“Our analysis of the fishing data found that there is very little fishing activity happening in this region apart from a small area to the north-east of Svalbard as the fish (which define any fishery) do not appear to be expanding their range northwards at the present time. However, this means there is an opportunity to develop protective measures to ensure there is environmental management in place for the future.”

Source: The Guardian, 3rd March 2016. For the full text, see


In Guardian Letters, 11th March, The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research has responded as follows (ref. ).

Greenpeace has proposed the establishment of a huge Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Arctic Barents Sea in order to protect vulnerable ecosystems from bottom-trawling. It is praiseworthy that Greenpeace challenges the Arctic countries to sustainably manage the resources found there. Unfortunately, a vast protected area is not the most efficient measure for protecting what needs to be protected.

Demersaldemersal Living on the seabed fish trawls may harm vulnerable benthic biota such as corals. In the Barents Sea there are no coral reefs, but other species are vulnerable to being caught in bottom-trawling. Based on 10 years of scientific monitoring of the Barents Sea, we see that the vulnerability among the benthic communities is not uniform across the area that Greenpeace proposes should be closed. In the Svalbard region of the Barents Sea, two-thirds of survey stations were classified as having low vulnerability to bottom-trawling. Thus full protection of the area would encompass areas that don’t need protection. While it is important to put in place appropriate restrictions, it is not wise to put overly rigorous restrictions on fisheries in the Barents Sea as this would run contrary to the global needs for increased sustainable fishing to help feed a growing global population.

Our research and monitoring allows us to pinpoint the most vulnerable areas, and to customise management and conservation to each one. Targeted and tailor-made management is a better strategy for ensuring the conservation of vulnerable Arctic organisms than establishing vast marine protected areas.
Dr Erik Olsen, Dr Lis Lindal Jørgensen and Dr Harald Gjøsæter
Institute of Marine Research, Norway


In Guardian Letters, 15th March, Marinet has responded as follows (ref. )

The question that the scientists at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway have to answer is why it would not be in the best interests of the whole area to have marine reserve status as its default position?

This would mean that no fishing could take place (be licensed) unless that proposal to fish could prove that it was not injurious. This is exactly what all other human marine activities have to do, so why should fishing be exempt?

Having been through this process, a licence could then be customised in order to ensure the fishing activity is responsibly undertaken and the needs and integrity of the marine ecosystem respected. This is the ecosystem approachecosystem approach An ecosystem-based approach to management represents a new and more strategic way of thinking. It puts the emphasis on a management regime that maintains the health of ecosystems alongside appropriate human use of the marine environment, for the benefit of current and future generations. This requires setting clear environmental objectives both at the general and specific level, basing management of the marine environment on the principles of sustainable development, conservation of biodiversity, robust science, the precautionary principle and stakeholder involvement. Ref, DEFRA, Safeguarding Our Seas, section 1.17 (2002) to marine management.

One must therefore request the Institute to clarify its support for the ecosystem approach — a key principle supported by OsparOSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic made up of representatives of the Governments of the 15 signatory nations., of which Norway is a member — and whether the default position of the area being that of conservation, with all human activity responsibly licensed, is not wholly consistent with the ecosystem approach?
Stephen Eades
Director, Marinet Limited

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