The wildlife is thousands of years old, there are millions of species that have not yet been discovered and it is by far the biggest space for life on earth. But environmentalists say it is now being destroyed.
The world’s deep ocean environment is perhaps the most important and least understood of the planet’s natural habitats. But west of Scotland it has been targeted by foreign fishing trawlers that drag heavy nets across the seabed, damaging all in their path.
The European Commission (EC) has proposed a ban, unleashing fury from the fishing industry and meeting opposition from the Scottish and UK governments. But pressure is now mounting on ministers to back the ban, with a petition signed by nearly 15,000 people and promoted by a coalition of ten environmental groups.
Allowing the trawling of the deep sea bottom is like letting “Stonehenge be bulldozed,” they say. But this is angrily disputed by fishing leaders, who attack environmentalists as “emotive” and the EC’s proposed ban as a “knee-jerk reaction”.
The deep sea, defined as waters deeper than 200 metres, makes up 98 per cent of all the space in which life on earth can develop. It is the world’s richest source of wildlife, with an estimated one to ten million species still to be discovered.
It can also provide rich picking for fishing boats, with French and Spanish trawlers reporting annual catches of around 6,000 tonnes each, including black scabbardfish, roundnose grenadier and blue ling. Much of this is from UK and Irish waters, including the northern Atlantic around Rockall to the west of Scotland.