12 / 1997
Dragger technology was first introduced in Eastern Canada in the late 1890s. Fishers at that time believed the technology would eventually destroy fish stocks, and negatively impact the inshore fishery.
The Royal Commission of 1928 had predicted that draggers would `destroy the spawn of cod and haddock ...destroy the feed grounds ...take large quantities of im-mature and unmarketable fish’ and glut the market, making it impossible for inshore fishers to dispose of their catches. The fact that the eventual outcome of dragger technology had been predicted 70 years ago makes today’s crisis even more of a tragedy.
Nevertheless, the dragger technology was adopted after the Second World War. It was designed to enable the pursuit of a mobile offshore fishery, and to allow for the possibility of greater exploitation of fish stocks on a year-round basis.
Modern draggers, large boats with a capacity of up to about 300,000 lb of fish, are primarily owned by corporations such as National Sea. The fishing technique employed is called otter trawling or dragging, and involves towing huge nets attached to the boat by cables across the seabed. Large metal squares, called otter boards, weighing up to five tonnes each, keep the mouth of the net open.
The otter boards drag along the bottom, smoothening the way for the gear while also channelling the fish into the mouth of the net. Once a school of fish is trapped between the huge otter boards, escape is unlikely. This type of gear is unselective, both in relation to the size of fish caught and the mix of species.
>From the perspective of the owners, this gear is considered to be economically viable because it allows exploitation of large volumes of fish in a relatively short period of time.
In the winter dragger fishery of the northern cod, for instance, the four main spawning grounds of this stock are fished. During spawning, fish mass together by the thousands. This presents an ideal opportunity to catch most fish at low cost and effort.
The dragger fishery employs a broad range of modern fish-finding aids, such as sonar, and captains have access to a wide range of scientific information. Dragger fishery no longer involves uncertainty. As one observer says, we now have the technological capacity to track down the last fish in the ocean.
It has been pointed out that bottom dragging can damage the young of the target species. It can also decrease the survival rate of eggs by dislodging and destroying them. Once detached, the eggs become food for a broader range of predators.
Dragging also affects by-catch species and the benthic habitat. By-catch refers to anything living that gets caught and destroyed in the process of dragging for a target species. Since draggers scoop up thousands of pounds of fish at a time, all of them under phenomenal pressure, nothing survives.
As of today, thanks to draggers, 17 of 20 Newfoundland groundfish species have a lower biomass than is normal, with a dozen of them having the lowest biomass ever recorded. The only problem that corporations, government officials and scientists openly admit is that of unwanted by-catches and immature fish.
Two techniques, also destructive, are commonly used by draggers to offset the few government regulations that exist i.e. high-grading at sea and using smaller mesh liners in the cod end. The process of high-grading refers to the illegal discard of valueless immature fish that are supposed to count against a boat’s quota.
Peculiarly, stock assessments by scientists are based on the catches of the dragger fleet plus two annual DFO surveys. Rather than judge the health of the stock by natural migratory patterns, it has been judged by the volume of the dragger catch. Since tracking and catching technologies are so sophisticated, this in not an accurate picture of what is truly available.
Dragging, or trawling as it is often referred to, is clearly a highly destructive technology. It is also non-selective, since, in addition to the targeted species, a large number of other species are also caught and then discarded. This technology has enabled large corporations to increase fish catches and rake in huge profits in the short-run. But the effect on fish resources and on coastal populations dependent on fisheries has been disastrous and several commercial stocks are showing unmistakable signs of overexploitation. With this, the livelihood of small-scale fishworkers is under threat. They are being forced to bear the consequences of the irresponsible actions of others. Little wonder, then, that small-scale fishworkers all over the world, as in Canada, Indonesia and India, have been protesting the activities of trawlers. They stress that trawling activities have contributed to depletion of marine resources. They also point out that trawlers not only compete with the small-scale fleet over increasingly scarce resources, they also compete with it over space. Trawlers often fish in the productive inshore waters, areas traditionally fished by the artisanal sector. In the process they destroy the nets and equipment of the smaller boats. Conflicts with trawlers over space have erupted in different parts of the world, leading to demands for the reservation of inshore waters for the artisanal fleet. As the crisis in the fishery sector deepens, there is an urgent need to move towards selective and ecologically sustainable fishing technologies.
Articles and files
SILK, Vicky, Canadian Oceans Caucus, Dragging women through suffering in. Samudra Report, 1994/02, 9