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COP26: Bottom trawling and the climate crisis

Lowering the carbon footprint of backside trawling requires daring motion from governments, and collaboration between fishers and environmentalists, writes Dr Steve Rocliffe, senior technical adviser at Blue Ventures

Greenhouse fuel emissions from the worldwide meals system are one of many largest contributors to local weather change. Lowering the scale of this carbon ‘foodprint’ is significant to assembly world emissions targets, and to protecting world warming inside manageable limits.

On this battle, what we select to eat could make an enormous distinction, and it’s clear that we have to eat extra fish. Seafood gives protein and vitamins to billions of individuals, and it does so at an environmental value that’s 10 to twenty occasions decrease than beef or lamb. Some species like sardine may be caught, transported and offered so effectively that they’re among the many finest meals we will eat for the planet – much more so than many vegetables and fruit.

However not all seafood has the identical carbon footprint. Particularly, some species caught by backside trawling (together with flatfish, shrimp and langoustine) can have a lot increased emissions, largely as a result of dragging a heavy web throughout the seafloor is an energy-intensive course of. It’s estimated that the carbon footprint of bottom-trawl fisheries is about 3 times increased than non-trawl fisheries, and that demersal species caught by backside trawls might create greater than 4 occasions the emissions of these caught by gill-nets and tangle nets.

And that isn’t the top of the story. In an eyecatching examine within the journal Nature, scientists estimated that for each tonne of seafood landed by backside trawlers, about 50t of CO2 are launched from the seabed by trawl nets.

We don’t know the way a lot of this carbon stays within the ocean and the way a lot leads to the ambiance, so this discovering, and notably the accompanying headlines that drew emissions comparisons between backside trawling and flying, stay extremely controversial. However have been these figures to be added into current footprint estimates, the carbon footprint of some species caught by backside trawling would possible exceed these from all different sources of protein, together with livestock.

On condition that backside trawling makes a better contribution to the local weather disaster than different main gear sorts, it follows that it must be a spotlight of transformative efforts. Fortunately, there’s a clear path to attaining this transformation, and it begins with extra of the identical: rebuilding shares. Extra fish within the sea means much less gas is required to catch them.

The massive progress made in recent times, notably in UK, EU and US waters, is trigger for optimism and celebration, however we should go additional. Rebuilding shares isn’t simply very important for the ocean and for livelihoods; it’s additionally the most effective methods to enhance the carbon footprint of bottom-trawl fisheries.

Wherever potential, we may also want to maneuver to fishing practices which can be much less fuel- intensive than backside trawling. Switching gears can cut back emissions by as much as 60% and create further biodiversity advantages, relying on the species focused. Proof from Scandinavia means that altering from backside trawls to creel, gill-net and Danish seines might cut back gas use by as much as 4 occasions per kg of langoustine and cod, and by as much as 15 occasions per kg of flatfish, respectively.

We’ll additionally have to extra critically think about transitioning fleets to low-emission alternate options, notably electrical, hybrid, hydrogen and sail-assisted applied sciences.

Then there’s the Gordian knot of spatial safety, which should be unravelled. MPAs should not the silver bullet that many conservationists declare, however they’ll have super worth for fisheries when they’re correctly funded, and when fishing communities are actively concerned of their design and administration.

We might want to think about seabed carbon in MPAs, and likewise to consider increasing and strengthening nationwide inshore exclusion zones for small-scale fishers through which backside trawling is restricted and high-carbon kelp forests and seagrass meadows safeguarded.

The sector can’t and shouldn’t do all this alone. It requires daring motion by governments to finish fossil gas subsidies and redirect them to incentivise and help wholesale transformation. It additionally requires all of us to play an element. We fishers, scientists, coastal communities, environmentalists, seafood corporations and useful resource managers all need the identical factor: wholesome oceans and wholesome coastal livelihoods.

To finest obtain this, we should regularly discover new methods to collaborate, to co-operate and to agitate for change. We should favour dialogue over division, doing enterprise over dumping boulders. That is removed from straightforward, but it surely’s the important thing to decreasing our impacts on the ocean and the atmosphere, and to making sure sustainable fisheries and vibrant oceans lengthy into the longer term.

Let’s hope that when world leaders collect in Glasgow this week for the UN Local weather Change Convention, fish is firmly on the menu.

Dr Steve Rocliffe is a senior technical adviser at Blue Ventures, which works with coastal communities globally to rebuild fisheries and restore ocean life. Blue Ventures is a founding member of the Remodel Backside Trawling coalition.

This text is from Fishing Information’ particular function on trade responses to the local weather disaster as a part of the COP26 convention in Glasgow. Subscribe to Fishing Information here or purchase the newest single challenge for simply £3.30 here. Fundamental picture credit score: Howard Wooden/ COAST.

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