Large areas of the Arctic seabed around Svalbard are damaged by trawlers

In some of the most popular fishing grounds north of Svalbard, more than half of the sea bottom has deep wounds from trawl bags.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - November 29, 2022
Trawlers damage major areas of Arctic seabed. (Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Norwegian marine researchers who set out on an Arctic expedition this summer expected to find large areas of untouched seabed. But the actual situation was quite the opposite.

The studies that were conducted with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) showed deep wounds made by trawl bags over large parts of the area, according to the Norwegian Marine Research Institute.

“In the most popular fishing grounds we discovered tracks from the trawl bags over 52 percent of the studied area,” says marine researcher and head of expedition Pål Buhl-Mortensen.

“In total, we studied 233 sites at various depths and overall we found trawl tracks over 35 percent of the area,” he adds.

The damages in the seabed were found at depths down to 900 meters. The areas worst affected were located at between 200-400 meters depths. In some of areas there were tracks every three meters, Buhl-Mortensen explains.

The damages come when fishing vessels pull the trawl bags across the seabed for catch of shrimp and other marine species.

Consequences for local marine life are dramatic. Many of the species living on the sea bottom are considered endangered and they are very vulnerable to external pressure, the marine researchers say.

Some of the damages are believed to stretch back to the 1970s.

There are fishing vessels from a number of countries operating in the area. The biggest share of them are from Russia.

During the expedition, the researchers themselves experienced the pressure from the trawlers. “At times were were surrounded by trawlers of different nationality, among them from EU countries, Norway and Russia,” Buhl-Mortensen says.

This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Today and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

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