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Unique sea world at mercy of fishing industry

1 September, 2004

Unique sea world at mercy of fishing industry

The future of ancient coral forests and seamounts in international waters appears unlikely to get much help from New Zealand, following the Fisheries Minister's refusal to back a temporary moratorium for bottom trawling on the high seas, Green Party Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

Ms Fitzsimons asked Minister David Benson-Pope for his support during Parliament's question time today, displaying a gorgonian octo-coral believed to be more than a thousand years old, as an example of the ancient ecology being wiped out by bottom trawling methods.

"When given an opportunity to affirm his support for the United Nations resolution to establish a moratorium, and heed the advice of 1100 marine scientists around the world, the Minister chose instead to back the bottom-trawling fishing industry," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"The Minister's assertion that I would be pleased to know hear that 'the New Zealand commercial fishing industry has undertaken to look at the technology used in trawling' was chilling. The industry is campaigning strongly against any controls.

"They assert that their nets do not drag on the bottom but have never explained why they catch so many rocks suspended in the water. The Minister seems to have swallowed this hook, line and sinker.

"Everything in the path of these steel-weighted nets is obliterated. Whole communities of marine organisms on ancient coral reefs, many of them still undiscovered, are unlikely to ever recover as the method wipes out their habitat. Once they're gone, they won't be coming back," she said.

Ms Fitzsimons said it was deplorable that New Zealand is just one of 11 nations who are deep sea trawling on the high seas (outside the 200 mile economic zone) and that it appeared the Government had no sense of urgency to put this damage on hold until international rules could be agreed.

"The fishing industry's strategy is to delay. They support negotiating regional fisheries agreements, which take years to complete. If they can delay long enough coral forests will be banks of mud and there will be nothing to protect. Leaving the problem to them is indefensible," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"Dr Daniel Pauly, the internationally renowned fisheries scientist who impressed many New Zealanders in his public speeches here last week, likened bottom trawling to using bulldozers to catch rabbits. The Government must act to halt the environmental genocide of the ocean floor before it's too late.

"I urge the Minister to support the temporary moratorium to give enough time to investigate and agree changes to fishing technology and to discover the most important habitats to protect," she said.

ENDS

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