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Diverse bycatch reveals extensive bottom trawling seabed destruction

All images Crown Copyright © Ministry of Fisheries by permission of the Ministry

15 February 2006

Images released by the NZ Ministry of Fisheries show a vast assortment of bycatch caught in bottom trawling fishing nets by New Zealand fishing vessels on the high seas. This evidence of extensive loss of deepsea biodiversity, is more than enough to justify an immediate end to all bottom trawling.

The Ministry of Fisheries has previously failed to address the issue of bottom trawling, and to show the New Zealand public the destruction it has caused.

The New Zealand government and bottom trawling fishing companies have now been disgraced by 185 images, obtained from the Ministry of Fisheries by Greenpeace through an Official Information Act request.

The photographs taken by onboard observers during 2004 and 2005 reveal a broad diversity of deep-sea life caught in bottom trawling nets. An assortment of species, including cold water coral, sea anemone, crab, octopus and very unusual fish have been found in bottom trawling nets.

The feet of crabs do not normally, ever leave the bottom, so when crabs show up in nets, it is a clear indication that bottom trawling gear is churning up everything from the seabed in its path.

A small part of the damage is represented by the images, since only five percent of vessels have observers onboard, and not all of them take photographs.

Why all onboard observers did not photographically record bycatch is difficult to understand. In addition to the ecological loss, much has been lost to the detriment of scientific research. When species unknown to science appear in fishing nets, the obvious thing to do is collect and document as much as possible - it will be invaluable to research and ecosystem management.

A photograph taken by an onboard observer shows a very large piece of red gorgonian coral, hundreds of years old, being manhandled to dump it back into the ocean. Other pieces of coral are on the deck of the vessel in bottom trawling nets.

View larger image
See slide show of 70 bycatch images

Most of the wide variety of fish, crabs, shellfish, coral, anemones and other marine animals found in bottom trawling nets are new to science and have not yet been named.

See slide show of 70 bycatch images

The truth about bottom trawling is finally exposed.....

The images of bycatch reveal much more than shocking destruction of seafloor ecosystems. They reveal fishing industry lies that specially developed bottom trawling gear had been developed to minimise damage to the seafloor.

The images also reveal a government that has withheld information from the New Zealand public in order to protect commercial fishing. The Seafood Industry Council, an industry association, said a ban would be devastating to the $1.2 billion industry of which $800 million comes from exports of fish caught by trawling.

When Greens Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons sought support in Parliament in 2004 for a United Nation's moratorium on bottom trawling, she showed a 5 foot tall, 1000 year-old piece of broken gorgonian octo-coral, and asked Fisheries Minister at the time, David Benson-Pope, if he is concerned that New Zealand is one of 11 nations bottom trawling that has obliterated the coral?

In reply Mr Benson-Pope said there was no doubt bottom trawling could be destructive "... but the extent of that is the subject of substantial debate ..."

Observers were onboard some bottom trawling vessels in 2004, so images of the extent and wide diversity of bycatch would have been available to the Fisheries Minister. The debate of the extent of benthic destruction was compromised in favour of the fishing industry, by suppression of the images that the government has now been forced to release.

Copyright © 2006 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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