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Call to for seabed ‘legal anomalies’ to be resolved

Call to for seabed ‘legal anomalies’ to be resolved before Chatham mining licence considered

The seafood industry wants the Environmental Protection Authority to defer any consideration on Chatham Rock Phosphate’s application to mine the Chatham Rise, until the legal anomalies of New Zealand’s Benthic Protected Areas are resolved.

Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) has just submitted its marine consent application with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to mine in a Benthic Protected Area (BPA) on the Chatham Rise.

The Chief Executive of the Deepwater Group, George Clement, says there is a large and inherent risk of massive disruption to the seafloor, the benthic biodiversity and seafood ecology in the region, if the proposal goes ahead.

“We have an unacceptable situation where the seabed in this BPA can be mined quite legally, even though it is illegal to have a fishing net touch or even go within 50 metres of it” he says.

“It’s a case of different rules for different users. In the interests of conservation, the untouched biodiversity that exists on the seabed of the BPAs should neither be trawled nor mined,” George Clement says.

“To be consistent, BPAs should have the same status for all, under New Zealand law. The CRP application at this time is going to call into question how seriously we regard marine conservation and biodiversity protection.”

George Clement says the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified New Zealand’s BPAs as ‘global marine protected areas’ where the primary objective is “to protect natural ecosystems and use natural resources sustainably, when conservation and sustainable use can be mutually beneficial”.

According to the IUCN, protected areas, such as the New Zealand BPAs, have the sustainable use of natural resources as a ‘means to achieve nature conservation’

George Clement says mining in the Mid-Chatham BPA will remove those benthic ecosystem protections, and the biodiversity of this pristine area, which fishing has never had an impact on, will pay the price.

Benthic Protection Areas were introduced in 2007 and cover a third of all of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone. They were designed to protect representative and untouched ocean biodiversity from proximity of fishing gear to the seafloor.

George Clement says the phosphate has been in the seafloor for millennia, is not going anywhere, and it would make sense to wait for safer and less destructive technology to be developed before extracting it.

He also says the value of the Chatham Rise fisheries is assessed at $167 million a year, the equivalent of $2.5 billion at risk over the first 15 years of the mining proposal.

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