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Minister and industry wrong on roughy

The Minister of Fisheries, John Luxton, has apparently assured the public
that New Zealand fisheries management is sustainable without even looking at
the fish stock record, says Cath Wallace for the Environment and
Conservation Organisations of New Zealand (ECO).

On Thursday John Luxton’s office rejected claims from Forest and Bird’s
Barry Weeber that New Zealand’s orange roughy is fished unsustainably and
said that “New Zealand can proudly promote its orange roughy as being
managed sustainably.”

“On Friday morning I asked the Minister’s office for the data on which the
Minister’s refutation of Barry Weeber’s documented claims. Spokesperson on
fisheries, Karen Gove told me that the Minister’s statement was “high level”
and that they did not have data to hand but had asked for it.

“Minister Luxton is making false claims. The data on stocks, catch limits
and decision making does indeed support Mr Weeber’s contention.

Orange roughy long lived, slow growing and because of this stocks take a
long time to recover and are vulnerable to overfishing. There is also much
damage done to seamount ecology when trawling occurs.

The fish stock data which is from the official stock assessment records of
the Ministry of Fisheries and NIWA shows that almost every fish stock is
below the legal minimum. Catch rates are often in excess of harvest rates
that would allow stock recovery, and catch limit adjustments are frequently
too late and too small.

The Bay of Plenty orange roughy stock (ORH1) began in 1995. Fishing has been
allowed to continue despite there being no stock assessment – and a trawl
survey which indicated that by 1998 the fish stock had fallen to just 5% of
the 1995 fish stock. The legal minimum stock is 30% of the original stock.
The fishing industry agreed to a further trawl survey this year but has not
done it.

In the area the north of the East Cape of the North Island (ORH 2A) orange
roughy fishing began in 1994 but a recent NIWA report shows that instead of
the legal minimum fish stock of 30% this stock has dropped to 15–25%. The
Minister refused to consider catch reductions this year. The industry
opposed catch reductions.

In the area south of the East coast of the North Island, the fish stock is
only 17% of the original stock – whereas 30% is the legal minimum.

On the Chatham rise (ORH 3B) there are several roughy stocks. On the north
east and eastern end stocks are 17% instead of a minimum of 30% of the
original stock. The Puysegur fishery was only closed in 1998 when stocks
crashed to only 7% of their original after 8 years of fishing. The Minister’
s action was too slow. Only in the north west of the Chatham Rise fishing
area is there a stock that meets the legal requirement of 30%.

Off the West Coast of the South Island on the Challenger Plateau at roughy
stock fished first in the early 1980s is has lost 81–85% of its volume and
is now only 15–19% of the original stock instead of the legal target of 30%.
Despite the need for catch limit reductions this year to follow cuts in 1998
the Minister refused to even consider the issue.

Slightly better off but still less than the minimum, the other West coast
roughy fishery (ORH 7B) is at 22% instead of 30% of the original stock and
current catch rates are still above most estimates of the sustainable yield.

When roughy is caught it is trawled from the sea floor and particularly from
seamounts which are underwater hills and mountains with rich gardens and
forests of marine animals such as corals, and gorgonians and many others. A
recent dating of a gorgonian put its age at 500 years. Corals have been
dated to 300 years old. There are many other species. Trawling is a
particularly destructive process since it breaks, crushes and drags the
marine communities in its path.

“Orange roughy fishing on the evidence is not sustainable and neither is the
Minister’s management of these fisheries. The 1996 Fisheries Act’s
requirements are not being met in these fisheries or indeed in many others,
for fish stock levels, catch limits or environmental impacts. The Minister
has made untrue and unsupported statements.

“The fishing industry has called Barry Weeber an extremist. The truth is
that Mr Weeber is correct and the only thing that is extreme is the damage
being inflicted on the marine environment by the fishing industry.”

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