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Survey reveals trawlers are hitting numbers of deep-water species in Atlantic.

Trawlers may be responsible for falling fish populations in deep waters, according to a study published today.

A 17-year project in the north east Atlantic found an unexpected decrease in the number of species which live around 3,000 metres below sea level.

Most fishing boats catch down to 1,600 metres but researchers said deep-sea species often lived in these shallower waters as juveniles. This has led to them being caught up in fishing nets along with targeted species and either dying in the catch process or succumbing to extreme pressure and temperature change.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow said the findings highlighted the need for more marine protection areas and a wider debate over the operations of deep-water fisheries.

The Scottish Association for Marine Science began mapping the distribution of deep-water fish on the west coast of Ireland in 1977, using ships from the Natural Environment Research Council.

They recorded fish populations until 1989, then repeated the exercise between 1997 and 2002, logging the figures.

When analysed, the data showed the populations of both target species and unwanted species had been affected.

In one case the number of a species of eel had halved.

David Bailey, a lecturer in ecology at the University of Glasgow, who led the final part of the study, said: "Commercial fishing may have wider effects than anyone previously thought, affecting fish which we assumed were safely beyond the range of fishing boats.

"We were extremely surprised by this result and believe that it has important implications for how we manage the ocean."

John Gordon, from the Scottish Association of Marine Science, said: "The general consensus is that deepwater fisheries are unsustainable and most, if not all, should be closed."
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 11, 2009
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