The twentieth century development of nylon and plastics has greatly benefitted
human "progress" and greatly taxed the global environment. Driftnetting,
one of the most efficient fishing methods for catching depleted stock that
was ever developed, uses nets made of monofilament and multifilament nylon.
Strong, transparent, and durable, nylon is the perfect material for constructing
huge invisible curtains capable of ensnaring almost anything that swims
or dives: squid, tuna, billfish, vast quantities of non targeted fish, sharks,
dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions, turtles, and almost every kind of diving
Before the United Nations moratorium went into effect on December 31, 1992,
more than 50,000 kilometers of driftnets were set each night in one ocean
after another, twelve months out of the year. Driftnet fleets were capable
of turning a profit even when stocks were dangerously low, forcing more
sustainable fisheries into economic extinction well before the driftnet
fleets themselves were no longer able to find sufficient fish to pay their
costs. The waste of valuable marine protein generated by the fleets was
enormous. Each year the fleets were in operation hundreds of thousands of
tons of valuable food fish dropped out of the nets or were discarded because
they did not fetch as high a market price as the target species, or because
the fish had putrefied in the nets or had been half eaten by sharks. Tens
of thousands of tons of juvenile tuna and salmon were harvested before they
could reach optimum weight or had a chance to reproduce. Several rare and
endangered species were threatened with extinction because of driftnet fishing.
The impact of this devastating fishing practice was fully documented by
more than thirty years of research. Observer programs monitored hundreds
of nightly driftnet operations. Although there were several smaller fleets,
driftnet fleets from only two States, Japan and Taiwan, took the lion's
share of the resources of the high seas with their driftnets.
In 1991 the United Nations negotiated a moratorium on driftnet fishing.
It called for reducing the total amount of high seas driftnet fishing to
half by June of 1992 and a compete cessation by 31 December 1992. Since
that time driftnet fishing has diminished, but there is evidence that it
has not stopped. In 1993, driftnet vessels were found fishing in the North
Pacific and there is ample indication that the Indian Ocean has become the
new ocean of choice for large-scale driftnet fishing, mainly because enforcement
in that body of water is minimal. In addition, the European Community permitted
its member states to continue to fish in the North Atlantic with nets over
2.5 kilometers in length beyond the United Nations deadline.
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