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Scientists call for fuel subsidies ban to protect fish

UK - Scientists have called for a worldwide ban on fuel subsidies paid to deep-sea fishing boats that are putting vulnerable species at risk and damaging corals.

Because many types of fish are declining in shallow coastal waters across the world, fishing fleets are increasingly active in deep international waters.

Most of the high seas catch from deeper waters is carried out by bottom trawling which involves dragging massive nets along the sea bed – a practice which can destroy deep-sea corals and sponge beds that have taken centuries or millennia to grow.

Fish such as orange roughy, roundnose grenadiers, black scabbardfish and deep-water sharks live longer and reproduce later than shallow waters species, and so are more vulnerable to steep declines in populations.

Canadian researchers recently produced a report showing much deep sea fishing is only profitable because of subsidies.

Dr Rashid Sumaila and Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia calculated that without the £75 million in annual subsidies paid to deep-sea fishing vessels, the industry would lose £25 million per year from the practice.

Half of these payments are in the form of fuel subsidies.

Their report estimated that in the year 2000, the countries that paid out the highest deep-sea fishing fuel subsidies were Japan at £13 million, South Korea at £9 million, Russia with £8 million and Spain on £3.5 million.

Biologists, ecologists and economists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in San Francisco called for action to reduce incentives for fleets to operate in deeper waters.