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Orange roughy fishers urged to keep to the facts

Orange roughy fishers urged to keep to the facts

Claims made to the media today by the Orange Roughy Management Company are contradicted by publicly available research.

Today the Orange Roughy Management Company claimed today there was little orange roughy fishing on seamounts. Yet research by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric scientists (Clark and O'Driscoll), published in 2003, reveals that 60-70% of the orange roughy catch comes from seamounts and that the orange roughy fishery is the second most dependent fishery on seamounts.

Forest and Bird's Senior Researcher Barry Weeber called on the Orange Roughy Management Company to stop misleading the public about deepwater fishing methods and the environmental impacts and urged the company to instead clean up its act.

"This research shows that the Company's claim that there is virtually no fishing for orange roughy on seamounts is complete nonsense," he said.

The research reveals that the catch of orange roughy from seamounts increased from around 30% of the total catch in 1985 to 80% of the catch by 1995. It also reveals that orange roughy catches from seamounts have "stabilized at between 60%-70% of the catch" (Clark and O'Driscoll 2003).

"This is serious because fishing on these bottom features destroys 400-500 year old deepwater corals called gorgonians and bamboo coral. This is likely to have flow on effects for the marine animals that rely on them - it's like destroying all the trees in a forest," he said.

Mr Weeber said the research concluded that there was "clear evidence of a substantial impact on the benthic fauna from deepwater trawl fisheries in New Zealand".

"The scientists ranked fisheries according to their dependence on seamounts. The cardinalfish fishery was the most dependent, followed by orange roughy and oreos. Furthermore, of the 248 seamounts fished by the end of the 1999-2000 fishing year, at least 217 had been fished by orange roughy fishers," he said.

The research also revealed the damage trawling does to the sea floor. On two heavily fished seamounts on the North-West Chatham Rise called Graveyard (1400 tows) and Morgue (600 tows) there were "large areas of barren sea floor, where there was exposed basement rock, coral fragments or soft sediment." Small and isolated areas of coral were never more than 2-3 percent of the areas photographed. In contrast, on the less fished Diabolical and Gothic seamounts, 100% cover was often recorded. "Seamount fishing in New Zealand is having a terrible impact on a wide range of deepwater corals, sponges and bryozoan species," Mr Weeber said.

"Research published in 1997 looked at 73 tows and found that 82% of the orange roughy trawls in the study killed marine life and that 96 species were directly affected. Marine life destroyed by the trawling included starfish, sea cucumbers, corals, shrimps, brittle stars and gorgonian (large deepwater corals)," he said.

In spite of today's claims that trawling away from seamounts was having negligible impact, the 1997 research showed that trawling on flat areas of seabed was also damaging. The prominently affected marine animals were starfish, sea cucumbers and shrimps," he said.

"Exploratory fishing to find new orange roughy fishing grounds is impacting on more seamounts in the North of New Zealand with individual tows collecting over 5 tonnes of corals, sponges and other sensitive bottom species," he said.

Orange roughy fisheries throughout the New Zealand fishing zone have been reduced to low levels and two fisheries have had to be closed - one when it reached 6 percent and the other when it reached 3 percent of its 1980s size. "The Orange Roughy Company cannot avoid this sorry saga of over-fishing."


Notes: 1. Research quoted on the impacts of seamount fishing: Clark M and O'Driscoll R (2003) Deepwater fisheries and aspects of their impact on seamount habitat in New Zealand. J. Northw. Atl. Fish. Sci. Vol 31: 441-458 (see www.nafo.ca/publications/journal/ J31/session1/clark.pdf)

Probert P K, McKnight D G, and Grove S L (1997). Benthic invertebrate bycatch from a deep-water trawl fishery, Chatham Rise, New Zealand. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 7: 27-40.

Smith, P J (2001) Managing biodiversity: Invertebrate bycatch in seamount fisheries in the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone. Blue Millenium United Nations Environment Programme, World Fisheries Trust and IDRC. (www.worldfish.org/Blue%20Millennium%20PDFs/ Chapter%202-%20Smith%20Case%20Study.pdf)

2. Seamounts are defined by the Ministry of Fisheries as "protruding irregularities, or bottom features, that rise greater than 100 metres above the sea floor in any depth of water. Seamounts can either be 'stand alone' features, or form part of a chain or hill range." Ministry of Fisheries 1999. Draft Strategy to Address the Impacts of Fishing on Seamounts. December 1999. The Ministry of Fisheries has never prepared a final strategy.

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