23 Jul 2012

NZ opposes orange roughy threatened status

4:10 pm on 23 July 2012

Tighter restrictions could be placed on the fishing of orange roughy if the United States goes ahead with plans to get the species classified as threatened.

The US government has confirmed to Radio New Zealand it is seriously considering making the recommendation to CITES, the world body that governs the trade of wild animals and flora.

The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation have sent a five-page report to the US urging it not to proceed.

Ministry principal fisheries science adviser Dr Pamela Mace says the species as a whole doesn't warrant a CITES listing and would not benefit from it.

The ministry estimates there are 140 million adult orange roughy in New Zealand waters.

"That hardly constitutes a risk of extinction," Dr Mace says. "There are certainly many, many far more deserving species that require the sorts of protections that a CITES listing offers."

Under a CITES threatened species listing, New Zealand would have to report regularly to other countries on fish numbers and prove that commercial fishing will not wipe out the species.

Countries that import orange roughy would have to sign documents saying they are satisfied the fish was caught legally and without cruel treatment.

Dr Mace says most of those measures are already in place with the Quota Management System which restricts the amount of orange roughy that can be caught. At present the limit is 5000 tonnes a year.

The Deepwater Group, made up of quota owners, says the Quota Management System is enough.

However, Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says the Quota Management System has failed orange roughy and the species deserves a place on the CITES list.

Mr Hackwell says orange roughy stocks are collapsing around the world and the US is expressing concern that is widely held.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Karli Thomas says the fact the US is investigating CITES protection indicates governments overseas are calling into question the sustainability of New Zealand's management of fishing of this species.

Seafood Industry Council spokesperson Alastair Macfarlane says CITES is an agreement to control trade, not to manage fish, so being on the list would make no difference to how much is caught.

He says it would require reporting on stock numbers and be an extra layer of administration.

The US has until October to formally make the recommendation, with any vote by CITES' countries in March.