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Report Indicates NZ Trawlers Dragged Up Over Seven Tonnes Of Protected Coral

Greenpeace is calling for seamounts and similar ocean features to be protected from trawling, as the latest fishing bycatch data indicates the New Zealand fleet dragged up seven tonnes of coral in a single year.

DOC’s 2019-2020 protected species bycatch report, released this week, shows fishing observers witnessed almost 3,000 kgs of protected coral dragged up by the New Zealand commercial fishing fleet, almost all from trawlers.

But given observers cover only a fraction of commercial vessels, this indicates at least 7.1 tonnes of protected coral were dragged up by the trawl fleet in total.

Greenpeace spokesperson Ellie Hooper says as these corals predominantly grow on seamounts and similar features - underwater mountains, hills and knolls - the simple way to stop their destruction is to ban trawling from these areas.

"This report shows that the commercial fishing industry is still bulldozing Aotearoa’s deep-sea corals at an alarming rate," she says.

"These habitats are vital to the health of the ocean as a whole. They act as nurseries for juvenile fish, have unique and endemic species living on them, which in turn provide food for animals further up the food chain.

"When bottom trawlers drag their heavy nets through these areas, they cause serious and lasting damage, as is seen by the coral coming up in the net."

But recent science confirms that what comes up in the net only tells part of the story. 7.1 tonnes coming up indicates that somewhere between 763 and 2,401 tonnes of coral were destroyed on the seabed. [1]

Alongside the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), Greenpeace is campaigning to protect all seamounts and similar features from bottom contact fishing.

"If we keep trawling these coral-rich areas we are in deep trouble," says Hooper.

"The Government has a choice to make. They can either protect Aotearoa’s amazing deep-sea corals, and all the life they support. Or they can continue to vote for ocean destruction at the hands of the bottom trawling industry.

"Close to 70,000 New Zealanders want seamounts protected, it’s high time the Government listened to them."

Further info:

[1] The conversion factor is based on science presented at the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation in 2019.

-Coral bycatch by the deepwater bottom trawl fleet increased by 4% from 527 kgs in 2018/19 to 546.5 kgs in 2019/20 (Weaver 2020).

-Extrapolating to the whole trawl fleet (not just those with observers on board) suggests the fleet dragged up at least 7.1 tonnes of protected corals in 2019/20.

-This amount of bycatch indicates that NZ trawlers destroyed between 763 and 2,401 tonnes of coral on the seabed in 2019/20.

-The worst coral bycatch rates were from the squid fishery and from the deepwater bottom trawl fleet targeting orange roughy, cardinal and oreo species, often on seamounts.

-100% of deepwater bottom trawl vessels that operated within this fishery during the 2019/20 year had protected species captures.

-73% of observed deepwater bottom trawl trips involved protected species captures.

-NZ's deepwater bottom trawlers alone were responsible for destroying between 216 and 679 tonnes of coral on the seabed in 2019/20.

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