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Greenpeace member protests the Estonian bottom trawler Lootus II in the foggy Northwest Atlantic Ocean in August 2005. On Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush called for a halt to all types of destructive fishing on the high seas. ((Greenpeace/Virginia Lee Hunter/Associated Press))

U.S. President George W. Bush joined a chorus of conservationist voices Tuesday by calling for a halt to all types of destructive fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, in international waters.

Bush sent a memo to the secretaries of state and commerce, directing them to promote "sustainable" fisheries and to oppose any fishing practices "that destroy the long-term natural productivity of fish stocks or habitats, such as seamounts, corals and sponge fields, for short-term gain."

Bush also said the U.S. will work with other nations and international groups to change fishing practices and create new international fishery regulatory groups, if needed.

The directive comes one day before the start of United Nations negotiations in New York over high-seas fishing.

Conservation groups have been unsuccessfully pressuring Canada and other countries for years to halt bottom trawling, in which huge weighted-down nets are dragged across the ocean floor.

While efficient for catching fish, the methoddisrupts habitats and destroys other forms of marine life.

In July 2005, Greenpeace called for a moratorium on bottom trawling in the Northwest Atlantic, but Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans refused.

Early this year at a conference in New Zealand, conservation groups berated delegates from 29 countries, including Canada, for failing to take action to protect deep-sea creatures and coral.

Greenpeace and the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre said they surveyed more than 800 Canadians last December about bottom trawling and found overwhelming support for a ban, even if it resulted in some job loss.

Sigourney Weaver urges UN to 'do the right thing'

Actress Sigourney Weaver appeared with several ambassadors and environmental activists at the UN on Tuesday to plead for a moratorium on bottom trawling.

"Do the right thing for the seas and for future generations, both human and aquatic, who will thrive on the bounty of the oceans if given half a chance," Weaver said.

"The high seas belong to no single country and they most certainly do not belong to the owners of these large industrial fishing corporations," she said. "They belong to all of us and it is time for us to take them back."

Weaver, an animal-rights and endangered species activist, appealed to ambassadors to "stop this uncontrolled clear-cutting of ancient corals," adding that people shouldn't assume the UN is doing something to protect deep-sea ecosystems.

In 2004, the General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution urging nations to consider temporary bans on bottom trawling. Japan, Iceland, Spain and other nations whose fishing fleets do much of the world's bottom trawling opposed a larger moratorium.

With files from the Associated Press