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Orange roughy decision shows changes are needed

Wellington – Tuesday 26 February 2008

Orange roughy court decision show changes are needed

The Environment and Conservation Organisations today expressed its disappointment that the High Court had overturned a decision of the Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton, to reduce the quota for the northern orange roughy fishery.

ECO spokesperson, Barry Weeber, said ECO considered the Minister’s decision to cut the roughy quota was long over-due and the Court decision means another year could be lost in moving this fishery to a sustainable basis.

“It is time that Parliament passed amending legislation already before the house to incorporate the international recognised precautionary approach into fisheries law.” Mr Weeber said ECO hoped that the National Party and the Maori Party would support this measure that would help create long-term sustainable fisheries.”

Mr Weeber said this approach had been adopted by the FAO and had been adopted in international fisheries law since the mid-1990s.

“The history of orange roughy fishing in New Zealand (and internationally) has been to severely over-fish populations and take corrective action too late.” Mr Weeber said it has yet to be determined whether orange roughy fisheries are sustainable in the long term and precautionary management was essential.

Mr Weeber said the substantial cut to the northern orange roughy stock was well overdue. “The Minister’s previous action to better manage this fishery has been hampered by legal action by some orange roughy fishers. ECO had hoped that the industry would have taken a more responsible approach and not challenge this decision.”

Mr Weeber said it was disappointing that fishers were only looking at the short-term rather than considering the long-term impacts of their activity. “The failure to more orange roughy fishing onto a sustainable basis is affecting New Zealand’s international reputation.”

Mr Weeber said ECO looked forward to further action to protect the animal communities on the seafloor from the impacts of bottom trawling and to stop the fishing effort just shifting to over fishing somewhere else.

1. ECO – the Environment and Conservation Organisations was established in 1972 and represents 62 groups with a concern for the environment.

2. The Amending legislation is the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill which amends section 10 of the Fisheries Act and was introduced in March 2007 and submissions were heard last year by the Primary Production Select Committee. The Bill is currently before Parliament for its second reading.

2. Orange roughy are long-lived and have a maximum age of 120-130 years. They do not mature until they are around 30 years old.

3. Oreos are made up of three species (black, smooth and spiky) which are all long-lived – maximum ages of 153 years for black and 86 years for smooth.

3. Orange roughy and oreos are caught using the controversial method of bottom trawling which also destroys any corals, sponges and other three dimensional sea life on the bottom. Some of these coral removed have been aged at over 500 years old.

4. Whether orange roughy fisheries are sustainable in the long term has yet to be determined. “They have low levels of sustainable yields, are vulnerable to overfishing, and have slow recovery rates” (Clark M (2001) Are deepwater fisheries sustainable? – the example of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand. Fisheries Research 51 (2001) 123-135.). The Australian Minister for the Environment added orange roughy as an endangered species under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.. (See http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/nominations/orange-roughy-listing.html).

5. There is poor reporting of bycatch species which are not of commercial interest. The AMP reporting of corals show very low rates which are inconsistent with reporting in other fisheries (Anderson O F and Clark M R (2003) Analysis of bycatch in the fishery for orange roughy, Holplostethus atlanticus, on the South Tasman Rise. Marine and Freshwater Research 2003, 54, 643-652.) and some of the early reports in this fishery. Unless there are independent observers on vessels the reports are poor or non-existent.

6. The Orange roughy northern fishery (ORH1) Adaptive Management Programme (AMP) catch limits and area controls has been exceeded over several years:

- Misreporting of catches from areas and features. We note the Ministry of Fisheries prosecution against one quota holder and one vessel master and that the permit holder pleaded guilty to some of the misreporting charges. This involves about 180 tonnes of misreported catch which is a very significant amount in this fishery.

-Area limits and feature limits have been exceeded on numerous instances in this AMP. The Area A limit of 200 tonnes was exceeded in the last three fishing years and Area D limit of 200 tonnes was exceeded in 2001-02.

-The 30 t limit for the Mercury-Colville features has been exceeded in three of the last four years including a catch of 64 tonnes in 2004-05. In part this included bycatch in the cardinal fish fishery.

-Monthly reporting has not met the requirements of the AMP MOU and industry undertakings.

7.There are many references in international law to the precautionary approach including the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the FAO Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries. The Code states:

'States should apply the precautionary approach widely to conservation, management and exploitation of living aquatic resources in order to protect them and preserve the aquatic environment. The absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason for postponin or failing to take conservation and management measures.'


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