The deep sea, defined by oceanographers as the area situated at depths greater than 200 meters, constitutes 98% of the space in which life can develop on Earth. The deep-sea environment is extremely poorly understood by scientists and almost unexplored. Until recently, the deep sea remained undisturbed by humans, but for the last 30 years, we have been exploiting it on an industrial scale. This should not and cannot be allowed to take place for one simple reason: their biological characteristics do not allow it. The fauna of the deep sea are characterised by their extreme longevity (often greater than 100 years) , slow growth, late sexual maturity and reproduction, low fertility and overall low resilience. In other words, deep-sea fish are the elephants of our oceans. Just like herds of elephants, deep-sea fish may have an initial high virgin biomass in certain locations, but a directed fishing effort often suffices to devastate a stock for several decades or even centuries.
Deep-sea fishing began as a direct result of the depletion of marine resources in shallow waters. Having overexploited fish stocks nearer the surface, industrial fishing fleets turned to the deep sea to make up for this lack of resources. This inexorable logic of overexploiting resources and destroying habitats reaches a particularly critical level in the deep sea as here, more than anywhere, there is a stark contrast between the immense technological efficiency of the fishing methods and the extreme vulnerability of the environment and fauna. Deep-sea fishing pitches a fast-moving world against a slow-moving one, and short-term profits for a few individuals against long-term benefits for all.
The deep sea is the greatest tragedy of the commons of our times. There is an urgent need to protect the environment which has been irreversibly devastated by vessels that are more like war machines (several aircraft can fit into some nets that are used). This ecological crisis is the equivalent of the deforestation of the Amazon.
Deep-sea fisheries are mainly conducted with deep-sea trawls, which are huge, heavily ballasted fishing nets that rake the seabed at depths of up to 2 000 meters, leaving only destruction in their wake. This “oceanocide” is perpetrated by less than 300 boats worldwide, operating on the “high seas” (in areas beyond national jurisdiction) in order to catch a few fish of high commercial value. Yet this activity irreversibly destroys coral colonies up to 10 000 years of age, which are part of the worldwide natural heritage of mankind.
Deep-sea ecosystems are the “perfect victims”: out of sight and mind, isolated and voiceless, they have no defence and no witnesses to save them from destruction by deep-sea trawls…
BLOOM has decided to give a voice to the deep-sea habitats otherwise neglected by the international environmental agenda. It is and has always been BLOOM’s priority. The need to protect the deep sea is an imperative priority, and although only a handful of environmentalists are committed to preserving the deep ocean, many scientists and (fortunately) a growing number of citizens are now concerned. Since it was founded, BLOOM has supported the publication of Claire Nouvian’s book, THE DEEP (The University of Chicago Press, 2007) and the creation of THE DEEP exhibition, originally hosted by the Paris Natural History Museum in 2007, in order to bring these fascinating and fragile marine environments out of obscurity.
Intervening among decision-makers and the general public, from the UN to classrooms, BLOOM’s work is based on an overwhelming amount of studies and scientific publications that show deep-sea fisheries to be unsustainable and extremely destructive.
Until the IFREMER singled itself out in July 2012 in support of French deep-sea bottom trawling fisheries (see below for the translation of a press release signed by Alain Biseau, a scientist whose integrity has already been openly questioned by NGOs in 2010 because of the biased pro-industry report he was a rapporteur of, see here), there was a clear consensus among the scientific community to agree that deep-sea fishing is an ecological aberration that goes against the principle of precaution, as well as against principles of environmental conservation and equitable sharing of the common good between nations. These fisheries are only legal because they emerged in a context of insufficient international legislation and a lack of scientific knowledge. Their legality by no means gives them legitimacy.
It should be noted that in 2004, 1136 researchers signed a petition asking the United Nations General Assembly to declare a moratorium on deep-sea trawling.
Deep-sea trawling is a historic blunder whose slow end is inversely related to the load of the arguments that weigh against it.