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Seafood industry scrapes the bottom

Seafood industry scrapes the bottom

Today's press conference by the seafood industry is a cynical attempt to deflect criticism of its destructive bottom trawling methods by promoting a solution that has been shown to fail in the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea.

New Zealand fishing boats have been operating in the Indian Ocean where negotiations for a regional agreement began in 2001. There is still no agreement but in the meantime the orange roughy has been overfished.

"This is just the latest in a string of public relations efforts by the seafood industry that appear to be aimed at pulling the wool over the public's eyes," said Forest and Bird's Senior Researcher Barry Weeber

"The Orange Roughy Management Company previously claimed that they did not fish outside the Exclusive Economic Zone, yet boats associated with the company were found doing just that," he said.

"They also claimed that they did not target seamounts. Yet publicly available research shows they do,” he said.

“The Orange Roughy Management Company is attempting to overturn the Government's decision to protect just 19 out of New Zealand's 600 plus seamounts. They don't want any seamounts protected," he said. The Minister of Fisheries protected these seamounts in 2002.

"Smashing seamount coral forests in the search for orange roughy is like smashing kahikatea to find kiwi for the barbie. New Zealanders would never tolerate this kind of behaviour on land, so why do we tolerate it on the ocean floor?" he asked."

"The suggestion of regional fishing agreements is just a diversion. New Zealand and Australia have been talking about a regional fishing agreement in the Tasman Sea for over a decade and there's no sign of one yet," he said.

"If the fishing industry wants regional agreements for the high seas, that's fine. But let’s have a moratorium first. They can do their fishing once the agreements are in place - because otherwise there won’t be much left," he said.

"A moratorium would also act as an incentive for the cosy club of 11 high seas bottom trawling countries to clean up their act and get regional agreements in place," he said. New Zealand is one of 11 countries that take over 95 percent of the catch caught by bottom trawlers on the high seas.

"We have no confidence in the New Zealand's fishing industry's environmental performance. They make claims that are not borne out by the facts. They persistently take legal action to make it easier to kill more marine mammals. They oppose the protection of even a small number of seamounts," he said.

"Why should we have confidence in an industry that refused to reveal how much fish they were catching on the high seas until forced to in late 2001. The fishing industry is giving New Zealand a bad name internationally," he said.


Bottom trawling is a major threat to biodiversity of vulnerable deepwater habitats and ecosystems. Research has shown losses of 95 to 98% of coral cover on seamounts as a result of bottom trawling.

Seamounts have a high biodiversity with a large number of species new to science found on closely situated bottom features.

Among the 11 countries are Spain, Russia, Portugal, Norway, Estonia, Denmark, Japan, Lithuania and Iceland.

High seas bottom trawling only caught around 200,000 tonnes in 2001. This compares to over 650,000 tonnes caught by different methods in the New Zealand EEZ and over 80 million tonnes globally of marine fisheries.

High seas fisheries are unregulated when it comes to their impact on biodiversity. Most of the high seas bottom trawling is not covered by regional fisheries agreements. Fishing on the high seas is also inconsistent with the conservation and management principles and obligations of the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. This includes applying a precautionary approach to fisheries.

A moratorium on high seas bottom trawling is being called for by a broad coalition of environmental and conservation organisations. This moratorium was supported by a number of countries at the recent UN consultation on the law of the sea.

As Dr Daniel Paully, eminent marine scientist noted last week, the quota management system does not protect fish habitat. There is no science to show that fish don't need habitat. It is trawling that wrecks this bottom habitat and removes gorgonians, corals and sponges that can be hundreds of years old.

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