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Setting the Record Straight

Fri, 4 Jun 2004

Setting the Record Straight - Greenpeace Responds to George Clement's Claims

Greenpeace NZ's campaign is to protect deep sea life will continue despite the violent response to its protest at the Orange Roughy Management Company's (ORMC) headquarters in Nelson early this week.

Recent comments by Mr Clements of the ORMC need a response. "We targeted the ORMC because they are the umbrella organisation for bottom trawlers in New Zealand and represent companies involved in deep sea destruction. At least four of ORMC's stakeholders landed catch from extra-territorial waters according to official records for the 2002-2003 fishing year. 29 vessels owned by ORMC stakeholders had permits to fish on the high seas in 2002-2003. While these will not all be bottom trawling, these companies can operate on the high seas," said Vanessa Atkinson, Greenpeace ocean campaigner.

"This is not an anti-fishing nor anti-ORMC campaign as Mr Clements claims and it is about more than 'a few little marks and a bit of mud at 1000 metres'," she said.

"There is unprecedented scientific concern about the devastating impact of bottom trawling, and scientists now say bottom trawling is the single biggest threat to deep sea life."

In February this year, over 1000 scientists from 60 countries including New Zealand, released a statement. It actually called for a complete ban on bottom trawling (1). "There are very seldom times when scientists take a stronger position than environmental groups. This is one of them, and it underscores the need to take what they are saying very seriously," Ms Atkinson said.

This is not a new issue to the New Zealand fishing industry. The call for a UN moratorium and concern about the impact of bottom trawling has been raised at the UN General Assembly for the past two years as well as at other ocean related meetings including the international Deep Ocean meeting in Queenstown during December. The New Zealand industry was at that conference as were government and environmental groups, including Greenpeace.

Increasingly the deep ocean is recognised as a major global reservoir of the earth's biodiversity, comparable - if not equivalent to - the biodiversity associated with tropical rainforests. Though only a fraction of the deep ocean has been studied, scientists estimate that the number of species inhabiting the deep ocean range between 500,000 and 100 million (2). The lack of knowledge on the deep ocean biology is part of the problem as industrial fishing fleets are getting to many of these places before the scientists.

A lot of the life in the deep sea is situated around features such as seamounts - underwater mountains. Seamounts are also where orange roughy, alfonsino, oreo and cardinal fish come to feed and spawn. This is why the bottom trawl industry goes to seamounts to fish. Approx. 70% of the orange roughy fishing is done on or around seamounts (3).

Bottom trawling involves a fishing boat dragging a net that is weighted across the bottom with heavy steel rollers over the ocean floor and scooping up everything in its path - including 2000 year old coral forests.

New Zealand is one of a small group of countries involved in bottom trawling on the high seas. New Zealand bottom trawlers are permitted to fish on the high seas by the New Zealand Government but there is virtually no regulation at all when it comes to the damage that is done in the efforts to catch those fish. This is the problem.

The industry has claimed that their nets do not touch the bottom. The science and official catch records show otherwise. 2003 reports from NIWA scientists show that damage to heavily trawled seamounts is significantly greater than on from those that have been lightly trawled (4). Coral cover was only 2-3% in most photos on the heavily trawled area, compared to mostly 100% on the lightly trawled area.

Further, the May 2004 stock assessment report for the New Zealand orange roughy fishery shows an ongoing problem with bycatch. A single tow in 2001-2002 pulled up 5,000 kgs of coral.

It was because of concern about the impacts of bottom trawling that 19 out of 860 seamounts were closed in New Zealand waters two years ago by Pete Hodgson, then Minister of Fisheries. The ORMC is legally challenging this closure.

The high seas are the global commons, they belong to all of us - not just the bottom trawling industry.

Mr Clements says that they fully support international regulations to manage high seas fisheries, and we are not in disagreement about the need for this. Unfortunately these take time - a lot of time - and that is what scientists say we do not have the luxury of. A moratorium would be the necessary urgent action required to take time out and ensure that we are not losing what we cannot replace, whilst we develop these international regulations.

Greenpeace has worked on illegal and unregulated fishing for many years, and despite that being an issue that is contributing to the problem of managing the global commons, it should not be used as an excuse to oppose a moratorium.

(1) "1,136 scientists call for protection of deep sea corals: Scientists statement on protecting the world's deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems", Announced at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Seattle, February 15, 2004. www.mcbi.org (2) Snelgrove PVR, Smith CR (2002) Oceanography and Marine Biology Annual Report. 40:311-342 (3) Clark and O'Driscoll NIWA "Deepwater Fisheries and Aspects of their impact on seamount habitat in NZ" 2003 (4) As above


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