14 Nov 2021

Call to ban bottom trawling faces opposition from Deepwater Group

11:19 am on 14 November 2021

A deepwater seafood industry group is fighting calls to ban bottom trawling, saying the practice is actually well-managed in Aotearoa.

Fishing nets for trawling.

A coalition of environmental and fishing groups are asking the government to ban bottom trawling on seamounts. (File image) Photo: 123RF

The Deepwater Group made a submission to the Environment Select Committee this week in response to a call from a coalition of environmental and fishing groups to ban bottom trawling on seamounts.

Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement said the government had been provided with misinformation about the fishing practice.

Last November, the Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition delivered a 50,000-strong petition to Parliament, calling on the government to ban the practice.

The coalition presented to the Environment Select Committee in August.

Clement said many of the coalition's conclusions, along with much of the reference material, were only relevant in an international context and not directly applicable within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

As one example, Clement said the petition stated there were more than 800 known seamounts in New Zealand's EEZ.

"NIWA and Fisheries New Zealand advise that there are 142 seamounts, 127 of which are either closed to bottom trawling or have never been fished."

New Zealand's EEZ was well managed and 91 percent was untouched, having never been bottom trawled, Clement said.

The practice only occurred in limited areas within the EEZ and was excluded from large closed areas.

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The Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition delivered a 50,000-strong petition to Parliament last year. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

Clement said harvesting seafood did have some impact on the environment, but that New Zealand's marine conservation measures ensured any impacts were within acceptable limits.

"The seafood industry is the most highly regulated food industry in New Zealand," he said.

"Nineteen of our most important fisheries are certified sustainable against the science-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) requirements - these comprehensive standards are the most robust and science-based standards in the world for ecosystem-based fisheries management.

"MSC certification of our main deepwater fisheries put us in the top 5 percent of the best-managed fisheries in the world."

Greenpeace spokesperson Ellie Hooper said the commercial fishing industry was missing the point because bottom trawling still destroyed tonnes of coral each year.

Many corals and unique species, only found in New Zealand, lived at the same depths that were being trawled, Hooper said.

"Ecologically speaking, it is the depth from the surface that determines where these corals thrive. So they can keep arguing about height definitions but they're going to keep dragging up coral if they trawl these areas."

In order to protect Aotearoa's ocean life and prevent biodiversity collapse, trawling needed to be restricted, Hooper said.

"When it comes to the ocean, it is not all created equal. So when we choose what to protect, that should be based on the most biodiverse, important areas for marine life, and seamounts fit this bill."

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