At an international symposium on sea biology, Mr Bradshaw said that the practice – which involves dragging heavy nets along the sea bed – should be stopped in particularly sensitive areas, such as where there are cold water corals, hydrothermal vents and “vulnerable ecosystems”.

But he also called for international action to completely outlaw deep sea bottom trawling.

The fishing technique has come in for heavy criticism from environmentalists for years, because the nets are so large and so big that they catch everything in their path, devastating fish stocks and other marine life.

“The international community needs to change direction, and quickly. I want to see the end of destructive deep sea bottom trawling,” Mr Bradshaw said.

The United Nations highlighted the plight of deep sea ecosystems in a report published last month (see related story).

Mr Bradshaw said that the report should act as a “trigger”, prompting international action to protect the marine environment.

He called for internationally-agreed protected areas in the world’s oceans, to give fish stocks a chance to recuperate from over fishing, and to provide a haven for other marine life.

Gretchen Hendriks

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