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Orange Roughy Catch Limit A Good Start, But Seamount Trawling Ban Necessary, Say Environmentalists

Environmentalists have welcomed news that the orange roughy catch will be cut by 40%, but say the need for a bottom trawling ban on seamounts is more urgent than ever.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Rachel Brooking announced a cut to the orange roughy catch today as part of the October Sustainability Rounds, which confirms catch limits for the 2023-24 fishing year.

The review that was used to inform these catch limits, published by Fisheries New Zealand in July, showed serious concerns for orange roughy populations - with groups of spawning fish disappearing from common breeding grounds, and bottom trawlers having to fish for far longer, yet still catching fewer fish.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ellie Hooper says cutting the catch is a step in the right direction, but that the government must close seamounts to bottom trawling to ensure long-term sustainability.

"Bottom trawlers target orange roughy while they are spawning over seamounts - which are hotspots of biodiversity," she says.

"In doing so, they devastate these habitats - destroying thousands of kilograms of coral every year - and catch the fish while they’re trying to rebuild their numbers.

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"It is unsurprising then that scientific research, released by the government itself, shows that groups of spawning fish are disappearing from the seamounts targeted by bottom trawlers, and that they’re having to fish for hours longer yet still not catching as many fish.

"The only seamount with an increasing number of orange roughy on it is one that has been closed to bottom trawling since 2001.

"This research shows us two things: orange roughy populations have been decimated by bottom trawling, but that recovery is possible if seamounts are closed to the method."

Karli Thomas from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) highlights the huge data gaps for the orange roughy fishery.

"There is no stock assessment for key parts of this fishery," she says.

"That’s because new science last year showed that the full breeding age of orange roughy is far higher than previously estimated, leading scientists to withdraw previous stock assessments as they were no longer reliable.

"The health of the main orange roughy population is completely unknown, but despite that, orange roughy is being exported from New Zealand with a so-called "blue tick" of sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council - it’s absolute greenwash."

Another report released by the Department of Conservation this year revealed that commercial fishing has reported dragging up more than 200 tonnes of coral over a thirteen-year period. Of that total coral capture, 99% of it came from bottom trawling, and 86% occurred in areas that correlate with this same orange roughy fishery.

Thomas says: "Nobody wants a dead, empty ocean. But to avoid that we need the government to put ocean health first, ban bottom trawling on seamounts, and give these areas a shot at recovery."

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