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Scientists uncover 'neglected' ramifications of common fishing method: 'We've never thought of [that]'

Because seafood feeds billions of people, with the global market worth over $257 billion, it may take some time to agree to new regulations.

Because seafood feeds billions of people, with the global market worth over $257 billion, it may take some time to agree to new regulations.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study published in Frontiers in Marine Science found that bottom trawling, a common practice in which fishing boats drag giant nets along the floor of the ocean, could have ramifications for the fishing industry and our climate at large.

What's happening?

As reported by Inside Climate News, researchers found that approximately roughly 408 million tons of carbon leaves the ocean and enters the atmosphere as a result of bottom trawling, a practice used to capture around 25% of the world's wild-caught seafood, per a separate study.

"We've only ever thought about carbon being added to the atmosphere from the land and going into the ocean," Gavin Schmidt, the co-author of the new study and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Inside Climate News. "We've never thought of: What if there's extra carbon being generated in the ocean itself?"

Why is this concerning?

Carbon dioxide traps heat in our atmosphere, leading to higher air and ocean temperatures, which can increase precipitation and sea levels.

In a study published in Nature in 2021, researchers found that churning up seabeds can produce more carbon than the global aviation industry, as Inside Climate News reported

Enric Sala, a co-author of the 2021 paper and a researcher with the National Geographic Society, told the outlet that "only atmosphere emissions count under the Paris Climate Agreement," so there hasn't been as much regulation on underwater carbon pollution from bottom trawling.

Additionally, marine life other than intended fish can be trapped or drowned when caught in these trawls.

What can we do about bottom trawling? 

Because seafood feeds billions of people, with the global market worth over $236 billion in 2023, according to Statista, it may take some time to agree to new regulations. 

"Anytime science suggests that there might be regulatory issues with an industry, there are going to be questions about the science—and there should be. Do we know enough to create regulations?" Trisha Atwood, an associate professor of watershed science at Utah State University, told Inside Climate News. 

However, "trying to quantify all of the smaller terms, all of the things that, up until now, we've neglected" — like the latest study is helping to do — is helpful, according to Schmidt

There have also been steps to help protect our oceans and the atmosphere. Scientists are aiming to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, according to the outlet Stuff, with more sustainable fishing practices that guarantee the future of marine life. Eating types of seafood that have less polluting harvesting methods, such as sardines or anchovies, can also set things in a more positive direction.

Vertical ocean farms are another promising option, minimizing impact on marine life and facilitating more research. Meanwhile, one Italian fisherman was able to stop illegal trawling with a garden of giant marble statues that could rip the nets.

Voting for pro-climate candidates or making your voice heard by signing petitions — with organizations like Greenpeace, for example — can also make a difference.  

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