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NZ Fails to Protect Deep Sea at UN Conference

New Zealand Fails to Protect Deep Sea at UN Conference

United Nations, New York, June 13: The destruction of the deep seas will continue to accelerate after New Zealand officials failed to oppose Iceland, Japan, and other countries that blocked proposals for protection of the High Seas at a United Nations meeting on oceans in New York.

Text from joint chairs of the UN meeting put forward a slate of measures to protect ocean life from the devastating impacts of bottom trawling. The move reflected widespread scientific and environmental concern at the impacts of this fishing method.

Despite scientific evidence that bottom trawling is responsible for large-scale destruction of deep-sea biodiversity, several delegations from fishing countries blocked moves to prohibit high seas bottom trawling under pressure from fisheries ministries in their countries. Iceland and Japan were particularly vocal in opposition.

The measure was replaced with a weak recommendation that nations 'consider' an interim prohibition. The New Zealand delegation worked to slow progress and to ensure that a strong recommendation for the urgently needed moratorium on high seas bottom trawling did not come out of the meeting.

An international alliance of conservation organizations, including Greenpeace NZ, the national coalition ECO, and Forest and Bird, has called on governments to impose a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling until deep-sea life and the sustainability of high seas bottom fishing have been assessed and legally binding regimes set up.

"The international community and New Zealand had a real opportunity to act and they failed," said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Vanessa Atkinson. "We need immediate action to save the deep sea from being bulldozed by fishing vessels from a handful of countries including New Zealand".

ECO chair, Cath Wallace said "It is extremely disappointing that New Zealand is not on the side of the environment - the Government seems to put the very short term interests of a handful of wealthy fishing companies ahead of the interests of the planet's health and the long term future."

"The reason the New Zealand fishing companies are going to the high seas is that they have already done so much damage to the deep sea fish stocks and their habitat in New Zealand waters," said Barry Weeber, Forest and Bird's Senior Researcher. "The destruction of the deep sea life on the high seas by bottom trawling is a global problem and it needs a global solution".

The discussions occurred during sessions of the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS), which annually makes recommendations to the UN General Assembly for action to protect the world's oceans. The General Assembly will consider the UNICPOLOS recommendations in November 2004.

Throughout the UNICPOLOS meetings governments from virtually every region of the world expressed support for a prohibition on bottom trawling. Particularly strong calls for action to halt bottom trawling were made by the Norway, Thailand, Costa Rica, the Republic of Palau, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Environmentalists and more than 1,000 scientists from around the world are concerned bottom trawlers are increasingly targeting fish near seamounts, cold water corals and other vulnerable deep sea habitats in unprotected international waters (2). Scientists say these largely unexplored habitats are extremely rich in biodiversity and could be the largest remaining pool of undiscovered marine life.

The Rainbow Warrior is currently in the Tasman Sea documenting the destruction of deep sea life by bottom trawling. Yesterday, endangered black coral, a CITES listed species, was dragged up and a New Zealand bottom trawler hauled onboard a large rock. "This proves that bottom trawlers including New Zealand fishers do hit the sea floor damaging the unique and vulnerable life of the deep sea," concluded Ms Atkinson. Deep sea shark and kina species have also been caught in the trawl nets.

See IMAGES of black coral, deep sea kina and ghost shark bycatch at: http://www.greenpeace.org.nz/photos/12June04/

More information on BOTTOM TRAWLING available at: http://www.greenpeace.org.nz/deepsea

Daily UPDATES from the Rainbow Warrior crew are published via satellite link from the Rainbow Warrior to: http://weblog.greenpeace.org/deepsea

Notes to editor:

(1) The 5th meeting of the United Nations Informal Consultation on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) was held at the United Nations in New York. It ran from Monday 7 to Friday 11th June. The focus of the meeting was on the conservation and management of the biological diversity of the seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

(2) Bottom trawl nets that are weighted by steel plates weighing up to five tons. The trawl plates and rollers plow across the ocean floor, destroying everything in their paths, including fragile corals, sponges and other deep-sea habitats. These ecosystems can be thousands of years old and may never recover.

Greenpeace Aotearoa New Zealand http://www.greenpeace.org.nz

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