Fishing on wrecks a risk

08 February 2021 11:02

Bottom trawling poses a huge risk to shipwrecks and other remains. A new report shows that more than 600 known ancient and cultural heritage remains are in danger. But now, fishermen, recreational divers, and maritime and fishing tour operators will be getting information about our unique cultural heritage.

For the first time, we have obtained a general picture of the impact of fishing on wrecks in Swedish waters. The National Heritage Board and Agency for Marine and Water Management have produced a report with input from Vrak – Museum of Wrecks. Several considerations come into play and influence what is happening: fishing practices, EU regulations, different laws – and a lack of knowledge.

“Unlike rogue divers who deliberately destroy and ruin wrecks, it’s more through honest mistakes and ignorance that they are destroyed by fishermen,” says Göran Ekberg, maritime archaeologist at the museum.

Fish are drawn to shipwrecks because of the protection they offer. So fishermen can be lured to approach such wrecks, too, even if they know that their trawls can easily get stuck. Many fishermen use sonar and can approach the wrecks – or avoid them. Even when towing trawls, ghost nets and debris, or even during ordinary anchoring, it is easy to damage the wrecks.

Most wrecks are found along the west coast and in the southern Baltic, where trawl fishing is also at its most intense.

“I’ve seen pictures of shipwrecks damaged by trawling outside Scania and Öland, and sometimes trawl nets are stuck in the wrecks,” says Mikael Fredholm, maritime archaeologist at the museum.

Marking wrecks on charts or with buoys, or having a diving, fishing and anchoring ban near wrecks, are some measures that the report suggests. But this requires legislative changes.

As a first step, informational material is now being developed for people who work at sea in Sweden and around the world.

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