New Zealand is fast developing a reputation as a South Pacific vandal, says Greenpeace, as the government continues to fight against increased ocean protection.
At the upcoming meeting of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO), starting on January 26, the New Zealand delegation looks set to stand alone in arguing for minimal protection of seamounts, which are important biodiversity hotspots.
New Zealand will also argue to increase orange roughy catch, a slow-growing fish species caught through bottom trawling.
The New Zealand delegation, as per their submissions ahead of the meeting, will argue that bottom trawl fishing should be allowed to continue as-is, even though it’s known to destroy deep-sea corals and other vulnerable marine life.
Other nations at the meeting, including Australia, will be pushing for tightened rules to prevent some of the damage from bottom trawling, and are also backing a review of bottom trawling rules in 2022.
In contrast, New Zealand has made one conservation proposal, to ban bottom trawling in areas deeper than 1,400m. In reality, trawlers do not fish below 1,250m, so this rule would do nothing to stop bottom trawling damage.
Greenpeace has described this proposal as "meaningless greenwash."
In the last year, New Zealand was the only country to bottom trawl in the South Pacific, and that’s despite an NZ owned ship being accused of bottom trawling in a protected area in the region.
In 2019, Talley’s vessel the Amaltal Apollo was placed on SPRFMO’s provisional fishing blacklist due to the alleged offence, but the New Zealand government successfully lobbied to get them taken off the following year.
The government promised to prosecute Talley’s to avoid them being blacklisted, but two and a half years later, prosecution of the company has not been completed. Talley’s vessels have continued to bottom trawl the South Pacific Ocean since.
In November 2020, Greenpeace and a coalition of environmental groups handed a 50,000 strong petition over to government, calling for bottom trawling to be banned on seamounts.
Jessica Desmond, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, says New Zealanders are tired of hearing how our government is failing to protect the oceans, and that they want to see action.
"There has been a pattern of New Zealand governments putting industry over oceans protections both domestically and in these South Pacific meetings," she says,
"New Zealanders are over it. It remains to be seen if the new government and Minister for Oceans and Fisheries will take this in hand, and ensure marine biodiversity is protected for all."
Submissions from members of SPRFMO, including New Zealand, Australia, the European Union and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition are available on this website ahead of the meeting.