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Bush seeks international effort to halt destructive fishing

WASHINGTON -- President Bush called yesterday for a halt to destructive fishing techniques on the high seas. He also said the United States will work to eliminate or to better regulate practices such as bottom trawling that devastate fish populations and that might severely disturb the ocean floor.

Bush directed the State and Commerce departments to promote ``sustainable" fisheries and to oppose practices that destroy the long-term natural productivity of fish stocks or habitats such as seamounts, corals, and sponge fields for short-term gain.

He said the United States would work with other countries and international groups to change fishing practices. The memo was issued a day before United Nations negotiations open in New York on an effort to ban bottom fishing anywhere it is unregulated.

While Brazil, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa and, now, the United States, have expressed support for regulating bottom trawling on the high seas, Spain, Russia, and Iceland are among those that oppose it.

The United States allows but regulates bottom fishing in US waters. The practice involves boats dragging huge nets along the sea floor, scooping up orange roughy, blue ling, and other fish, while bulldozing nearly everything else.

``It's like clear-cutting the forest to catch a squirrel," said Joshua Reichert, head of the private Pew Charitable Trusts' environment program, which has been leading an international coalition of more than 60 conservation groups against the practice. ``The White House . . . has once again come out strongly in support of ocean conservation, proving that there is bipartisan support for ending the destruction of the world's oceans," Reichert said.

Bush created a national monument in June to protect the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters.

Bush's position on high-seas fishing and bottom trawling represents a last-minute shift going into an election, in part because of mounting pressure from the conservation groups, key GOP senators such as Ted Stevens of Alaska, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, and John W. Warner of Virginia, and a number of US allies, such as Britain, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand.

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