Timeline

Samian ware pottery, Pudding Pan Rock, 2nd c. AD. Photo: British Museum, P&EE M 1740, AN30753001.

• 1755 – oyster dredges drag up dozens of Gallic Roman bowls from Pudding Pan Rock off Whitstable, England.

• 1836 – Whitstable diving pioneer, John Deane, investigates net-snagged wood off Spithead, England, and discovers King Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose.

• 1863 – in the world’s first enquiry into fishing sustainability, the Sea Fisheries Commission saw shipwrecks around Wyke Regis and Weymouth Bay, England, as a threat to livelihood. Fishermen complained that nets stuck on wrecks known since “the remembrance of man” caused thousands of pounds’ of damage. Prof. Huxley proposed that blowing up the wrecks would be of “great advantage”.

• 1860s – oyster dredgers and trawlers start netting tons of Mesolithic bones of extinct animals and tools 95-110 kilometres off Norfolk, England, from sunken Doggerland in the North Sea.

• 1877 – a rare bronze Roman warship ram decorated with the head of Medusa, found by a fisherman off Sanary, France, sent to a foundry for scrap.

• Late 19th century – a 77-centimetre Bosatsu Buddha statue, a symbol of mercy revered by Mongols as protector of their armies, is netted off Takashima Island, Japan, the site of the lost fleet of the Mongol ruler Kubla Khan, destroyed in a hurricane in 1281. A site containing warships was discovered after local fishermen trawling Imari Bay for generations snagged Chinese pottery and weapons. Included a bronze square seal inscribed in Pagspa, the official script used by the Mongolian court in China (University of the Ryukyus and the Matsuura, Japan).

• 1930s – an underwater ‘mammoth cemetery’ of elephant tusks found by fishermen off Saint-Brieuc in Brittany, France, turns out to be a probable Dutch shipwreck lost 1711-1750 (DRASSM & Art and History Museum of Saint-Brieuc).

• 1931 – a 21.6-centimetre-long Mesolithic red deer antler harpoon found in a large lump of peat caught by the trawler Colindia working the Leman and Ower Banks, 40 kilometres off Norfolk, England, and dated to 11,740 ± 150 BC, triggered awareness about thousands of fossilised animal bones and lithics recovered between eastern England and the Dutch coast in the North Sea.

• 1948-1963 – 433 ceramics and amphoras trawled up 5-10 kilometres off Israel dating from the Early Bronze I period (c. 3300 BC) to the Islamic era.

• 1953 – fishermen dragging nets for sponges close to the Knidian peninsula dump a bronze statue near a beach at Bodrum. The Lady from the Sea is now in the Izmir Museum, Turkey.

• 1955 – a bronze statuette of the Phoenician god Melqart is trawled up by an Italian fishing boat 20 nautical miles off Sicily.

Statue of a Victorious Youth, 300-100 BC. Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California.

Statue of a Victorious Youth, 300-100 BC. Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California.

• 1964 – the Greek masterpiece of the Victorious Youth bronze statue, 300 to 100 BC, turns up in an Italian trawl net off Fano, North Adriatic. Bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, in 1977 for $3.95 million. 2010, an Italian court orders its repatriation.

• 1965 – The 400-metre-deep Tortugas shipwreck from the 1622 Spanish Tierra Firme fleet came to light in the Straits of Florida after the Trade Winds shrimp boat snagged an obstruction. Badly damaged nets recovered three Spanish olive jars, metallic artefacts, ship’s rigging and hull remains. A 1990-91 study, the world’s first deep-sea excavation, found that shrimp fishing boats had raked 73% of the 209 olive jars off the central site (Seahawk Deep Ocean Technology, USA).

• 1970 – first International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) inquest into the effects of trawls and dredges on seabeds (Council Resolution 1970/5/1).

• 1977 – a concreted musket entwined in a lobster pot backline off Alderney, Channel Islands, leads to discovery of the Elizabethan wreck of an English royal dispatch carrier lost in the 1590s.

• 1970-1995 – George McGhee, United States ambassador to Turkey, assembles over 200 Phoenician to medieval amphoras and other ancient finds caught in fishermen’s nets off Turkey.

• 1979 – the 74-gun HMS Invincible, sunk in 1758, is discovered in the east Solent, England, after fishermen snagged large timbers and two pewter pots.

• 1979 – the Third Rate English warship Stirling Castle, lost 1703, is found on the Goodwin Sands, England, after a stern trawler struck a fastener. Recently gillnetters blown off course have pulled off very large transom timbers measuring 6 × 0.56 metres weighing approximately 2 tons.

• 1979 – the Dutch East Indiaman the Vliegenthart, lost off Holland in 1735, is found covered with nets. By 2002 the sternpost protruding 2.2 metres above the seabed had been eroded by bottom trawlers down to a height of 30 centimetres. A Dutch trawler snagged an iron cannon in 2009.

• 1983 – a 6.7-metre medieval rudder weighing 1.5 tons is landed in fishermen’s nets in Rye Bay, England.

• 1986 – the necks of 600 fish sauce amphoras on a Roman wreck 6 miles off Grado, Italy, are found decapitated by trawlers.

• 1993 – a shrimp trawler lands hundreds of silver coins 80 kilometres off Louisiana, USA, leading to the discovery of El Cazador, a Spanish warship lost in 1784 en route from Veracruz, Mexico, to New Orleans.

Smashed Chinese Porcelain, Wanli Wreck, c. 1625, Malaysia. Photo: © Sten Sjostrand.

Smashed Chinese porcelain, Wanli Wreck, c. 1625, Malaysia. Photo: © Sten Sjostrand.

• 1996 – between 1996 and 2001 the cargo of 100,000 pieces of Chinese and Thai ceramics discovered on the 15th-century Longquan shipwreck in a 30-metre hull – one of the largest wooden ships found under the South China Sea – had been obliterated by Thai trawlers. Much of the hull was flattened (Nanhai Marine Archaeology).

• 1997 – the Portuguese ‘Wanli’ shipwreck of c. 1625 came to light off peninsular Malaysia’s east coast after a large blue and white baluster jar and other pottery appeared in trawl nets. An estimated 80% of the ship’s original 37,300 pieces of porcelain had been broken or pulverized. 3 tonnes of broken porcelain lay smashed in the upper surface layer (Nanhai Marine Archaeology).

• 1998 – the 2-metre statue of a 4th-century BC ‘Dancing Satyr’ is netted from a depth of 500 metres, 80 kilometres off Mazara del Vallo, Sicily.

• 1998 – the Australian submarine AE2 sunk in 1915 at a depth of 73 metres in the Sea of Marmara, Turkey, is found damaged by uncontrolled fishing, which fouled the hull, sprung hull plates and rivets and produced denting along the hull sides (Rahmi M. Koç Museum, Istanbul).

• 1998 – a trawler drags up a 5-metre-long Anglo-Saxon dugout (or fish trap?) from the vicinity of Southwold, England.

• 2001 – the Napoleonic brick Mercure, lost in 1812 at a depth of 19 metres, is found 11 kilometres off Punta Tagliamento, Italy, after crushed copper cauldrons, three 24-pounder cannonballs, a sword blade and sabre hilt are caught in fishing nets, followed by a 1.65-metre-long iron cannon in 2001. Net fragments and lines litter the site, ropes and cables were found under 20 centimetres of sand, and archaeological remains were scattered across 100 metres (Nucleo Archeologia Umida Subacquea Italia Centro Alto Adriatico of the Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Veneto & Carlo Beltrame).

• 2001 – the 20-metre-deep Desaru shipwreck was located 2 nautical miles off southern peninsular Malaysia when a bottom trawler twice snagged its nets and pulled up potsherds and ship’s timbers. When dived in April 2002, the site had been shaved flat and was littered with broken planks and misplaced bulkhead frames. A large wreck buoy placed to warn off trawlers and protect the site was unsuccessful. In 2002 a long steel chain and nets were found snagged on ship’s timbers, and three large and heavy longitudinal beams from the mast support had vanished (Nanhai Marine Archaeology).

Jacksonville ‘Blue China’ shipwreck, c. 1854, 110km off south Florida. Photo: © Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Jacksonville ‘Blue China’ shipwreck, c. 1854, 110km off south Florida. Photo: © Odyssey Marine Exploration.

• 2003 – the Jacksonville Blue China wreck is found 70 nautical miles off Florida at a depth of 370 metres. Transporting British ceramics manufactured in Staffordshire alongside American glasswares and building materials to a southern port, most probably Savannah, Charleston or New Orleans. Probably sunk during a hurricane in September 1854. The 23 × 11-metre wreck mound was badly trawl impacted: at least four parallel trawl furrows had cut the length of the site and cleared sterile paths through the cargo, leaving behind lines of smashed ceramics and ship’s hull. Coherent cargo was only preserved in a 4.1 × 1.9-metre cluster of ceramics and glass bottles protected by durable concreted iron possibly related to the stempost. In 2010 local red shrimp fishermen described how they had been catching ceramics from the site over the last 40 years (Odyssey Marine Exploration, USA).

• 2005 – the ‘Youth of Kynthos’ early Hellenistic bronze statue of a life-size boy is delivered to the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities after recovery by a cod trawler at 500 metres depth west of Kythnos.

• 2006 – the Ho Bugt trawler snags between the islands of Mando and Fano in the Wadden Sea, Denmark, a 4.05-metre-long keelson and mast step, 2.55-metre floor timber and two other ship’s planks dated to 1264 (Viking Ship Museum & University of Southern Denmark).

• 2005-2006 – the Holland 5 submarine, lost in 1915 off Sussex, England, is found heavily netted with snagged steel cable and fish nets having destroyed the upper works and external features. Major net damage is observed from the cast iron exhaust pipes to the exhaust box (Nautical Archaeology Society, England).

• 2006 – the M24 Japanese midget submarine sunk in 1942 at 54 metres in Sydney Harbour, Australia, is found covered in post-1960s nylon fishing nets and rolled by past fishing net snags; most of the conning tower, bow and propeller protective cages, rudders, torpedo tube and the crew access chute have been ripped off (Office of Environment & Heritage, New South Wales Government, Australia).

• 2005-2007 – the First Punic War battle site, fought off the Egadi Islands, western Sicily, in 241 BC between Rome and Carthage, is found disturbed by fishing activities. Trawling netted two bronze warship rams, a war helmet and amphora fragments (Soprintendenza del Mare, Regione Siciliana. & RPM Nautical Foundation, USA).

• 2008-2010 – extensive trawler damage to amphora wrecks sunk in depths of 50-595 metres off southwest Turkey. On Knidos A, C and J between 25-40% of amphora cargoes were damaged. 62% of storage jars on Marmaris B were broken and scattered (Departments of Oceanography and History at University of Rhode Island; Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Bodrum; BOSAV Foundation, Bodrum).

Side-scan sonar image of a 110m-deep West Africa trader (Site 35F), Western Approaches, England. A scallop dredge cut furrow lines through the wreck. Photo: © Odyssey Marine Exploration.

• 2005-2012 – the Atlas Shipwreck Survey of the Western Approaches and western English Channel calculates that 112 of 267 of wrecks (41%) displayed fishing impacts, ranging from snagged nets and equipment to dragged cannon, abandoned gear, side-scan sonar evidence and oral reports (e.g. an armed merchantman sunk between c. 1670 and 1690 at a depth of 110 metres in the Western Approaches) (Odyssey Marine Exploration, USA).

• 2007-2012 – eight Hellenistic, Byzantine and Ottoman wrecks at depths of 101-114 metres off Sinop and Ereğli in the southern Black Sea had been trawled through since 2000 (flattened amphora cargoes, deep site scars, hull displacement and material dragged up to 200 metres offsite). Damage to these wrecks had more than doubled since 2000. In 2011 to 2012 the late 4th-century BC Ereğli E wreck was badly disturbed by trawlers; human bones preserved in the mud were ripped out and lost (Institute for Exploration, USA; Centre for Ocean Exploration, University of Rhode Island, USA).

• 2008-2012 – many bronze cannon on the wreck of the First Rate warship the Victory, 80 kilometres southeast of Plymouth, England, were found abraded, flipped and dragged up to 233 metres offsite. All seven archaeological Areas were impacted in this period (Odyssey Marine Exploration, USA; Maritime Heritage Foundation, UK).

Crate of English Enfield muskets, 1850s or 1860s, trawled up 320km off Newfoundland. Photo: © Stephen Hull, Provincial Archaeology Office, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Crate of English muskets, 1850s or 1860s, trawled up 320km off Newfoundland. Photo: © Stephen Hull, Provincial Archaeology Office, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

• 2011 – a crate of Enfield muskets made in the 1850s–60s, new arms being shipped from the Tower of London for British troops in Canada or the new Canadian militia, is fished up 320 kilometres off Newfoundland, Canada (Provincial Archaeology Office, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada).

• 2012 – 20 bronze cannon were snagged and landed in the previous decade from the 73-gun Dutch flagship Eendracht, sunk in the North Sea during the Battle of Lowestoft of 1665.

• 2013 – the European Union rejects a ban on bottom fishing trawlers (342 to 326 votes). Allegedly the vote was miscounted and the true count should have been 343 to 330 in favour of a trawling ban. The initial rejection stands by EU law.

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