WASHINGTON – President Bush called for a halt to destructive fishing on the high seas Tuesday and said the United States will work to eliminate or better regulate practices such as bottom trawling that devastate fish populations and the ocean floor.
Bush directed the State and Commerce departments to promote “sustainable” fisheries and to oppose any fishing practices that destroy the long-term natural productivity of fish stocks or habitats such as seamounts, corals and sponge fields for short-term gain.
He said the United States would work with other nations and international groups to change fishing practices.
The memo was issued a day before United Nations negotiations open in New York on an effort to ban bottom fishing anywhere it’s unregulated.
The U.S. allows but regulates bottom fishing in U.S. waters. The practice involves boats dragging huge nets along the sea floor scooping up orange roughy, blue ling and other fish while bulldozing nearly everything else in their path.
“It’s like clear-cutting the forest to catch a squirrel,” said Joshua Reichert, head of the private Pew Charitable Trusts’ environment program, which has been leading an international coalition of more than 60 conservation groups against the practice.
“The White House … has once again come out strongly in support of ocean conservation, proving that there is bipartisan support for ending the destruction of the world’s oceans,” Reichert said.
Bush created a national monument in June to protect the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters.
His position on high-seas fishing represents a last-minute shift going into an election, in part due to mounting pressure from the conservation groups, key Republican senators and U.S. allies such as Britain, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.