Stow Away the Death Nets

DRIFT gill netting practiced by hundreds of Asian fishing boats in the South Pacific is causing unprecedented destruction of marine ecosystems. Nicknamed the wall of death by conservationists, the method indiscriminately kills marine mammals, including dolphins, seals, sea lions, and small whales. It also kills fish and bird life caught in its path. The gill net is a huge nylon mesh of small holes that travel through the open ocean. The nets take on the effect of a sheer 40 foot wall with floats supporting the tops and lead weights holding down the bottoms. The nets can extend over 30 miles from each individual boat. In the water the nets are undetectable, and animals become entangled when swimming into them.

The large drift-net fleets of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea have been operating in the Pacific for the last decade. Their numbers are estimated at 1,500, with a staggering net capacity of up to 45,000 miles. Their increased sighting in the South Pacific are due to a need for larger fish - and backlash over their presence in the North Pacific. The fleets have been outlawed in international waters. Governments in the free world have banned drift net use within their 200 mile territorial limits.

Drift net fishing is on an ecological par with ozone depletion and the mowing down of tropical rain forest. A tragedy is taking place on the open oceans unmatched in human history.

Marine scientists in the South Pacific expect the extinction of the albacore tuna within the next 2-5 years. With no quotas the boats are taking four times the total annual tonnage allowable for the fish to continue living safely in the open seas.

Drift gill netting is an inefficient form of fishing. About 40 percent of the catch, unwanted, is thrown back dead into the sea. This wholesale dredging is destroying the entire ecosystem of the South Pacific.

The 160-boat fleet in the South Pacific at present sets up about 5,600 miles of net each night during the albacore tuna season (October through May). The boat numbers grow each season. No laws govern their actions.

What's more, thousands of miles of ``ghost net'' are lost each year. These are nets that break away - killing any living creature caught in their paths. These nets kill year-round. As the net becomes overloaded with dead corpses it sinks to the bottom only to float away again later.

The strip mining of the seas by the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Koreans is a crime for which their governments should be held accountable. No amount of money can pay for the abuse that the seas are being put through. Each one of these nations has yet to address the environmental nightmare it is sanctioning. These fishing nations have already destroyed their own fishing grounds by overkill. Now they are moving onto new parts of the planet.

Future generations should be able to enjoy the fruits of the sea. The world community must band together to show their outrage over these pirates who must be held fully accountable to the living creatures of our world.

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