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On World Fisheries Day, NZ Chatham Rise Orange Roughy Loses Sustainability Label

New Zealand orange roughy caught off the east and south Chatham Rise - amounting to around 80% of the New Zealand catch - has lost its sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) today, with the fishing industry “self-suspending” its own fishery.

Losing the sustainability label is crucial to the industry: it’s a key selling point for consumers in the US which takes more than half New Zealand orange roughy exports.

Environmentalists say the only thing that could save the fishery would be a ban on the thing destroying it - bottom trawling on seamounts, labeling the sustainability change “the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”.

“The orange roughy fishery has lost its certification for a number of reasons, one of them being that the New Zealand government has withdrawn its stock assessment for this fishery, as it was shown to be wrong,” said Barry Weeber of ECO, a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC).

“What was supposed to be a booming fishery was not, with catch rates declining and fish were missing or much reduced from major spawning areas, there was just not the fish there to support this.”

Last year, the MSC recertified the fishery, despite the DSCC informing it of the issues around the stock assessment. Last month, the MSC’s agent in the Pacific, MRAGs, conducted an audit. DSCC coalition coordinator Karli Thomas wrote to them as they started the audit, setting out concerns over the sustainability of the fishery.

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“The NZ bottom trawl industry is trying to save face by "self-suspending" their MSC certification because if they didn't do so, the MSC would have had to do it for them. There is no way that deep sea fish bottom trawled off their seamount breeding grounds from a population without a stock assessment can be passed off as sustainable,” said Thomas.

The news comes as the DSCC today released a video to mark World Fisheries Day (see download link below), calling for a ban on bottom trawling on seamounts. Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Ellie Hooper said a ban is the only thing that’s going to save orange roughy.

“If the New Zealand fishing industry had stopped trawling seamounts decades ago, the orange roughy fishery would not be in the appalling state it's in today. It's way past time for the government to step in and close these biodiversity hotspots to bottom trawling, once and for all.

“We want a fishing industry to be proud of, not an international embarrassment that even the MSC can't sugar-coat any longer,” said Hooper.

The DSCC argues the certification should also be stripped from the rest of this destructive fishery. In particular, during the most recent stock assessment process, scientists warned that the stock assessment for the Northwest Chatham Rise sub stock was not reliable, but the decision was taken only to acknowledge it was more uncertain because there had not been enough investigation into it. This is the very opposite of the precautionary principle, which calls for erring on the side of caution, and conservation, where there is inadequate data.

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