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Potential Impacts Of Deepwater Prawn Fishery

25 July 2002 - Wellington

Fisheries Fails To Consider Potential Impacts Of Deepwater Prawn Fishery

The Ministry of Fisheries is environmentally irresponsible in allowing a deepwater prawn fishery in the Southern Ocean without properly considering its impacts, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

MinFish recently issued a two year special permit to Vela Fishing Co Ltd to trawl for deepwater prawns at depths of 600 metres covering an area the size of the South Island. The area includes the Challenger Plateau, west of New Zealand, north Chatham Rise and a large area of the Southern Ocean around the Bounty Islands and north of the Auckland and Campbell Islands.

"A copy of the special permit (obtained under the Official Information) shows that the Ministry of Fisheries did not require an environmental impact assessment, has put few conditions on the permit, has not set any catch limit, nor required scientific observers on all trips," Forest and Bird fisheries researcher, Barry Weeber says.

"Deepwater trawling is known to have substantial impacts on benthic (bottom dwelling) species. As heavy trawl nets are dragged along the bottom they smash sedentary species on the sea bottom such as long-lived sponges and bryozoans (lace corals)."

"The huge area over which MinFish has allowed prawn fishing increases the chances of widespread environmental damage and impacts on marine biodiversity," he said.

"Research for the scampi fishery has shown that impacts on benthic species are generally greatest at the start of a fishery when "new" fishing occurs in a relatively undisturbed area, as is happening here."

"The deepwater prawn fishery could also increase marine mammal and seabird deaths. Since the early 1980s, over 2,000 of the rare New Zealand or Hooker's sea lion have drowned in squid trawl nets. The squid fishery has been closed early five times in the last seven years to protect the sea lion.

"Around 1500 seabirds, including petrels and albatross are killed annually in New Zealand's trawl fisheries. The special permit includes no conditions to address these issues except to exclude prawn trawling from any areas already closed to trawling.

"The Southern Ocean is an area of exceptional biological richness. The role of prawns in the marine food web and the species they nourish and support is poorly understood. It is premature to allow this commercial take under the guise of research. Much stricter conditions are needed to reduce its likely impacts.

"Once again the Ministry of Fisheries is ignoring its responsibilities in the Fisheries Act to manage the impacts of fishing on the wider marine ecosystem."


Barry Weeber
Senior Researcher
Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society
PO Box 631
New Zealand
Phone 64-4-385-7374
Fax 64-4-385-7373

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