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Company And Fishers Sentenced For Bottom Trawling In A Benthic Protected Area

Sealord Group Limited (Sealord) has been ordered to forfeit a US$16m vessel and fined $24,000 today in the Nelson District Court for bottom trawling in a protected area.

Sealord vessel master Bolen Terric Goomes was fined $7500 and first mate Thomas Adrian Pope was fined $5000. They were convicted on one representative charge each, relating to five trawls for the company, three trawls for the skipper and two trawls for the first mate. The charges relate to fishing in an area closed to bottom trawling activity, contrary to Fisheries (Benthic Protection Areas) Regulations 2007.

Benthic Protected Areas protect large areas of mostly pristine marine environment. These marine landscapes are home to spectacular underwater mountains, valleys, geysers, and muddy flats and are protected through industry agreed measures.

MPI Director Compliance Gary Orr says “All bottom trawling and dredging is illegal in Benthic Protected Areas. To ensure that fishing gear does not touch the bottom, trawling within 100m of the seabed is prohibited within a Benthic Protection Area.”

The convictions resulted from a hoki fishing trip on Sealord’s commercial fishing vessel Ocean Dawn to the Chatham Rise, approximately 200 nautical miles east of Christchurch, within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The offending was detected by MPI on 29 October 2018. The offending relates to five trawls that occurred during 26 October - 28 October 2018. Sealord also self-reported the offence. Four of the five trawls took place partially inside the Mid Chatham Rise Benthic Protection Area. The final trawl was entirely inside the protection area. For each of the trawls the net was hard on the seabed and within the lower buffer zone of 50 metres off the bottom.

The quantity of sponges reported caught as by catch by Sealord in the five illegal trawls was 1300kg.

Approximately 40,000kg of fish was caught during the five trawls. Some of this fish was caught inside the Benthic Protection Area.

In addition to the vessel Ocean Dawn being forfeit, the proceeds from the sale of the entire catch taken in the five offending trawls is also forfeit which amounts to $112294.13.

Sealord Group Limited can make an application to the courts for relief from the effects of forfeiture in relation to the vessel.

The defendants were sentenced on the basis that they had not deliberately bottom trawled in a protected area, but they had failed to take reasonable steps to avoid the offending.

Gary Orr says “It is important that the companies sending skippers to sea give them adequate training and provide sufficient oversight well after the vessel leaves the port. They need to provide transparent and up to date information and systems on board their vessels so that incidents like this do not happen.

“Fishing activity is now closely monitored with the aid of new geospatial position reporting regulations that mean fishing vessels are monitored in near real time when fishing. Alerts are triggered when a vessel enters a closed or restricted area. ”

Background

In 2007, the Government closed 17 separate Benthic Protection Areas within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, comprising 1.1 million square kilometres, to dredging and bottom trawling. The purpose of the closures is to protect vulnerable benthic (seafloor) biodiversity.

The Fisheries (Benthic Protection Areas) Regulations 2007 (BPA Regulations) make it illegal to trawl within 100m above the seabed. Midwater trawling is allowed above that level but subject to strict conditions so as to preclude contact with, and therefore damage to, the benthic environment.

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