Britain’s appetite for fish and chips could be threatening one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems as fishing fleets move further north to supply demand,Sky News reports.The UK imports more than 100,000 tons of cod each year and fishermen are taking advantage of melting sea ice in the Arctic Circle to source it in greater numbers.
The amount of sea ice has reached an all-time low this summer – a staggering 100,000 sq km below the previous record set in 2010. Experts say a vast expanse, an area about six times the size of the United Kingdom, has vanished in the past 30 years.
In a Sky News special report, we joined an Arctic research expedition to analyse the effect on life below the surface. Campaigners are worried the melting ice is being turned into a business opportunity by the fishing trawler fleets in particular.
As Arctic sea ice retreats, fisheries in the Barents Sea are pushing northward into newly ice-free waters near Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Circle. But knowledge about these waters is limited, leaving some worried the extra fishing activity could have harmful effects on the environment.
Earlier this year, fishermen and seafood suppliers struck a major deal that will protect some parts of the Arctic region from industrial fishing for cod. Companies including McDonald’s, Tesco, Birds Eye, Europe’s largest frozen fish processor, Espersen, Russian group Karat, and Fiskebat, which represents the entire Norwegian oceangoing fishing fleet, have said their suppliers will refrain from expanding their cod fisheries further into pristine Arctic waters.
The agreement follows an investigation by Greenpeace in March, which revealed suppliers of cod to major British seafood brands were taking advantage of melting Arctic ice to push further north with fleets of destructive giant bottom trawlers.
Using satellite tracking data, it found that an increasing number of Russian and Norwegian trawlers had fished in the northern Barents Sea around Svalbard in the past three years, an area deemed by scientists to be ecologically significant.
Sky News joined a Greenpeace Arctic research expedition to the Arctic intended to monitor trawler activity in the ocean. Currently, there is no law in place to protect Arctic areas that were once covered by ice.
The agreement struck is only temporary and Greenpeace wants permanent laws in place to protect untouched areas. UK campaigner Daniela Montalto said: “The Norwegian government has a very clear responsibility to make sure that there is protection of the areas that are vulnerable and opening up.
“As the ice retreats because of climate change there is new ocean that is emerging and what the ice used to protect is now up for grabs – if we let it happen.”
At least 70% of all the Atlantic cod that ends up in supermarkets around the world is from the Barents Sea, but Greenpeace said its evidence of fishing further north – while not illegal – could damage fragile ecosystems.
Experts consider bottom trawling to be a highly destructive fishing method, which is already responsible for damaging up to half of Norway’s cold water corals reefs.
Dr Carl Safina, an ecologist from Stony Brook University in New York, told Sky News: “The sea floor is a complex place and the life down there, including the soft corals, may be many centuries old until a net just snaps them off – and that’s it for centuries. Here we have a chance to get it right.
“No-one is saying no fishing. We are just saying not everywhere and not unlimited.”