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New Report Highlights Deep Sea Species At Risk From Bottom Trawling

3 August 2021 -- Thousands of ancient sea corals are destroyed each year according to a new environmental report, released today, highlighting what could be lost if we fail to stop bottom trawling on seamount ecosystems.

The case for banning bottom trawling on seamounts has wide support, a 50,000 strong petition delivered to Parliament last year, and is clearly stated in the new report from a wide coalition of organisations (1), who will present it to the Environment Select Committee on Thursday morning (2).

The report reveals that 128 new species were discovered on New Zealand’s or Aotearoa’s seamounts in the past three years - all from bycatch from the bottom trawling industry, and includes shocking statistics on the amount of coral being destroyed by the New Zealand bottom trawling fleet.

The report will be presented to the Environment Select Committee on Thursday, as the groups strengthen their call for bottom trawling to be banned on seamounts to protect the mauri ocean.

From the report:

There are hundreds of unprotected seamounts teeming with life in both the New Zealand EEZ and in the wider international waters of the South Pacific. Many of our seamounts are unique, and each can be distinct from neighbouring seamounts, meaning a small area of ocean with several seamounts could have entirely unique macroinvertebrate communities.

In the past three years in Aotearoa New Zealand, scientists have identified 128 species new to science from fishery bycatch during the course of a marine invertebrate identification project. Many of these species have been found in or around seamounts, which are hotspots of ocean life.

Scientists have found that coral samples from the fishing areas included black coral aged up to 2600 years old, and other coral aged between 300 and 500 years old. Orange roughy, the main fish species trawled on seamounts, can itself live to over 220 years old.

In the year 2018-2019 alone, just over 14 tonnes of corals were dragged up in bottom trawling nets by New Zealand trawlers. But only a fraction of coral destroyed makes it up to the surface in the net: Scientists have estimated that 14 tonnes of coral in nets would mean 1,515 to 4,769 tonnes was destroyed on the seabed.

All of the six New Zealand bottom trawl vessels currently permitted to trawl in the South Pacific high seas belong to companies that have been convicted in the past year of illegally fishing in closed areas, with more prosecutions pending.

Karli Thomas, a report author, from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, says:

“These studies confirm that many of our deepwater coral forests have been growing for hundreds or even thousands of years, but a single bottom trawl can destroy them in minutes.

“The Ministry of Primary Industries is busy trying to calculate how many seamounts it’s okay to destroy, to try and justify our fleet’s continued rampage, rather than focussing on ocean protection and our international obligations. It’s time for the Minister to rein them in.”

Greenpeace ocean campaigner Jessica Desmond adds that the Government urgently needs to put protecting deep sea life before the interests of commercial fishing.

“Time is running out to safeguard the biodiversity of the ocean. This report shows the widespread destruction caused by bottom trawling seamounts - it’s time the Minister stepped in to ban it.”

"For too long Ministers and officials have ignored the well documented ongoing destructive impact of bottom trawling on seamounts and other biodiversity hot spots in our surrounding seas. Just like special features on land, these places are deserving of protection if sea creatures and ecosystems are to thrive," said Barry Weeber of ECO (Environment and Conservation Organisations).

“We need to do better by our ocean. Trawling the seabed to catch deep sea fish with nets that also wipe out their fragile habitat is no way to fish... It’s time for a ban,” said Scott Macindoe of LegaSea.

“We know these fragile coral forests take decades to even start recovering from bottom trawling. The government urgently needs to prioritise Aotearoa’s incredible marine biodiversity and ban bottom trawling on seamounts, now. This action is well overdue,” said Livia Esterhazy of WWF-New Zealand.

"The destruction caused by bottom trawling is completely unsustainable. The Government has adopted a Biodiversity Strategy that seeks to turn around the biodiversity crisis, increase marine protection, reduce bycatch to zero and move to ecosystem-based management of fisheries. It's time to end bottom trawling,” said Geoff Keey of Forest & Bird.


(1) Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO), Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, LegaSea, Our Seas Our Future, WWF-New Zealand

(2) The groups will present their case to the Environment Select Committee in Parliament at 0900 on Thursday 5 August.

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