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Delicate life in the ocean hit by advent of bottom trawling

Times Online
Frank Pope, Ocean Correspondent

One of the most dramatic impacts on marine life came from the advent of bottom trawling. In 1376 a complaint was made to King Edward III about the destruction it caused:

“Where in creeks and havens of the sea there used to be plenteous fishing, to the profit of the Kingdom, certain fishermen for several years past have subtily contrived an instrument called ‘wondyrechaun’. . . the great and long iron of the wondyrechaun runs so heavily and hardly over the ground when fishing that it destroys the flowers of the land below water there, and also the spat of oysters, mussels and other fish up on which the great fish are accustomed to be fed and nourished. By which instrument in many places, the fishermen take such quantity of small fish that they do not know what to do with them; and that they feed and fat their pigs with them, to the great damage of the common of the realm and the destruction of the fisheries, and they prey for a remedy.

Anger greeted the trawls where they were used, for the local fishermen could see the damage that they caused to their favourite areas. Bans were introduced to try to stop their use, and in 1583 two fishermen were executed for using metal chains on their beam trawls (today these are standard issue).

But the new method spread, for it was brutally efficient in the short term, even if unsustainable. Over generations fishermen began to accept the new status quo and forgot what the seas had once been like.

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