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Industry Proposals are of low conservation value

Wellington - Wednesday 16 August 2006

Fishing Industry Proposals are of low conservation value

A report prepared by NIWA for the Department of Conservation shows that areas the fishing industry proposes to close to bottom trawling are of low conservation value.

ECO spokesperson, Barry Weeber, said the report by three NIWA scientists found the industry proposals were a "poor option for the long-term protection of demersal fish diversity in New Zealand".

Only 0.2%, or 100 bottom trawls out of 47,000 undertaken last year were in areas proposed for protection. "Clearly, it is the amazing deep sea life in other areas outside what the industry want to 'protect' from bottom trawling that is in the most danger" said Mr Weeber.

Over 84.5 percent of the areas proposed were deeper than 1500m - out of reach of most bottom trawls. Fifty percent of the area was in the Kermadec region - an area that is too deep to trawl and includes the Kermadec Trench which reaches a maximum depth of 10,047 m.

Mr Weeber said, "environment groups have criticised the proposal but this is the first independent assessment of the conservation merit of the proposals."

The vast majority of areas the industry were willing to forfeit were either too deep to fish in or had no economic fish populations, he said.

Mr Weeber said the proposals were unrepresentative of New Zealand's diversity of undersea mountains - seamounts - and the vulnerable life living on and around them.

Previous NIWA research published in 2005 has divided seamounts into 12 classes for our EEZ and surrounding waters. The industry proposals do not protect two types of seamounts identified inside the EEZ and two types found only outside the EEZ.

"It is time the Minister of Fisheries acknowledged that the proposals are a device by the fishing industry to deflect proper environmental controls on fishing."

ECO would welcome the Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation developing a robust process to identify representative marine protected areas within our fishing zone (EEZ)."

Mr Weeber said the NIWA methodology shows how representative protected areas could be determined and implemented.

He said it was likely that similar fishing industry proposals in international waters would also be of low conservation value especially given the poor information base.

In international waters there is weak or absent regulation and meagre science. The only option to protect biodiversity is a UN moratorium on bottom trawling.


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

2. The report is:
Leathwick J, Julian K and Francis M (2006) Exploration of the use of reserve planning software to identify potential Marine Protected Areas in New Zealand's EEZ. Report prepared for the Department of Conservation. NIWA DOC06213, June 2006.

3. Key passages from the report are:
"With respect of the BPAs [Benthic Protection Areas] proposed by the fishing industry, our results indicate that implementation of these would produce low returns in terms of demersal fish conservation. We emphasise that our analysis will have over-estimated these returns because the BPA proposal only precludes the use of bottom trawling in those areas, while allowing continued harvesting using other methods.

On the basis of our results we conclude that, despite their large geographic area, the focus of this proposal on existing areas that have both very low fishing value and low fish diversity, makes it a poor option for the long-term protection of demersal fish diversity in New Zealand's EEZ." (page 28)
[Demersal fish are bottom dwelling fish eg orange roughy.]

"The benthic protection areas .comprise 14.3% of the area of trawlable depth within the EEZ. However, they also coincide strongly with areas of low biodiversity." (page 28) [Trawable depth is defined as down to 1950m which is much deeper than typical orange roughy or deepwater oreo fisheries.]

"The average protection for all species provided by the 14 % of the EEZ [at trawlable depth] contained within the proposed BPAs (9.26%) is less than a quarter of the protection that would be provided by an equivalent area chosen solely for its biodiversity values (39.2%).

The disparity for endemic species is even more pronounced, with the BPAs providing average protection of 6.8% compared with protection of 56.7% that would be provided with unconstrained selection of sites." (page 23)

"The benthic protection areas proposed by the fishing industry indicates that these proposed reserves are predominantly located in parts of New Zealand's EEZ that have very low current value for fishing and for the protection of demersal fish diversity. As a consequence, the setting aside of these areas would provide a much lower level of protection for demersal fish than would implementation of any of the other reserve scenarios we demonstrate." (page v)

"Note: that only 27.7 percent of the BPAs fall within the depth range sampled by research trawls [down to 1950m] - the remaining 72.3 percent falls within areas in which depths are beyond those currently regarded as trawlable." (page 7)

4. The report on seamount classification is:
Rowden AA, Clark M R and Wright I C (2005) Physical characteristisation and a biologically focused classification of "seamounts" in the New Zealand region. NZ J of Marine and Freshwater Research. Vol 39: 1039-1059.

A large number of researchers have noted a high degree of endemism associated with seamounts. De Forges et al (2000) noted that:
"Seamounts comprise a unique deep-sea environment, characterized by substantially enhanced currents and a fauna that is dominated by suspension feeders, such as corals."

"Low species overlap between seamounts in different portions of the region indicates that the seamounts in clusters or along ridge systems function as 'island groups' or 'chains,' leading to highly localized species distributions and apparent speciation between groups or ridge systems that is exceptional for the deep sea. These results have substantial implications for the conservation of this fauna, which is threatened by fishing activity."

This endemism is likely to mean that the classification system devised by Rowden et al (2005) will under-estimate the biodiversity on seamounts. For example, fish species diversity on some seamounts has also been reviewed by NIWA scientists (Tracey et al 2004). Tracey et al (2004) found there was clearly different fish fauna on seamounts north and south of 41oS and that in 10 seamount complexes there was different species richness. Even within a seamount complex they found different species dominating different seamounts.

Tracey D M, Bull B, Clark M R, and Mackay K A (2004) Fish species composition on seamounts and adjacent slope in New Zealand waters. NZ J of Marine and Freshwater Resarch. 38:163-182.

5. "Seamounts" refer to any feature with vertical elevation of at least 100m which is the definition used in the Ministry of Fisheries draft Strategy to Address the Impacts of Fishing on Seamounts, 1999.

6. There are no representatives of two types of seamounts identified by Rowden et al (2005) (Hikurangi Plateau, east of Hawkes Bay, and Macquarie Ridge) included in the current 19 seamounts protected or the BPAs.

7. The industry proposes to remove protection from the Pinnie - the only seamount protected on the South-southwestern Chatham Rise and is surrounded by an area which has been heavily trawled for deepwater dory. The reason for its protection was well canvassed in 1999 to 2001 (Clark et al 1999 and 2000).


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