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The most destructive practice on the marine environment the world has ever known

30 August 2006

TerraNature is calling for the Minister of Fisheries to take urgent action for the future sustainability of fisheries, and the protection of diverse ecosystems, within New Zealand’s jurisdiction and worldwide.  An immediate moratorium is needed on bottom trawling within the Exclusive Economic Zone, and New Zealand fishing vessels need to be restricted from bottom trawling in high seas areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The government is also urged to take a leading position to help establish a United Nations agreement for a global moratorium on bottom trawling.

A growing number of countries are expected to push for a moratorium at the UN General Assembly meeting in October/November.

It is also necessary to urgently start prohibition for the South Pacific, until the proposed RFMO is established, and effective management and conservation measures are instituted, according to precautionary principles and an ecosystem approach.

Bottom trawling is the greatest environmental atrocity inflicted on the oceans, and one of the greatest on Earth.

New Zealand’s international environmental credibility has been badly damaged by bottom trawling.  Continuing destructive benthic fishing practices, and the government’s lack of support for a moratorium, would be substantially more destructive of the “clean and green” label New Zealand widely uses in marketing all food products and tourism to the world.

New Zealand came under intense criticism for damage caused by bottom trawling in the high seas at
the 2004 meeting of the UN Informal Consultation on the Law of the Sea (UNICPLOS). It is apparent from the statements of many countries at recent UNICPOLOS and other forums, that call for a moratorium on bottom trawling, that criticism will increase and will be more damaging to the country’s environmental reputation.

The New Zealand government must carefully reconsider bottom trawling, to take into account the growing majority of nations that oppose it.

The Deepwater Stakeholder Group Ltd says 7 percent of the seafloor of the EEZ at a depth greater than 200 metres has been bottom trawled.

During a quarter of a century bottom trawling has destroyed 28.3 million hectares of EEZ seafloor habitat, which is more than New Zealand's land area.

In comparison, it took 170 years from the beginning of the 19th century to the time of protection legislation, to destroy kauri forest covering 1.6 million hectares, or 6 percent of the land area.  The near to nothing conservation of kauri forest is one of the great environmental tragedies and a disgrace on the country.

But unlike the lack of knowledge of ecological systems and ignorance of the benefit of conservation in the 19th century, bottom trawling is practiced today when the need and value of conservation is well known, and depleted fish stocks of the world’s oceans have been identified.

Bottom trawling is undoubtedly the greatest New Zealand environmental disgrace, made worse by fishing in high seas areas beyond national jurisdiction, that are the domain of all world citizens.

If the settlers in the 19th century had been able to perceive transportation and tourism of today, they may have cut down less kauri and protected the largest and the oldest, in their haste to establish New Zealand’s first terrestrial export industry.

Today, we can imagine the possible reality of tourism submarines and a deepsea tourism industry.  Instead of simply extracting seafood, oil and gas, and minerals from the ocean, New Zealand needs to search the deepsea for the natural resources that will be the economic generators of tourism of the future.

Some Paragorgia coral colonies are the kauri forests of the ocean – they are most likely more than a thousand years old.

It will be a great advantage for New Zealand to find the world’s biggest coral forests, the most unique ocean environments, and the most weird and wonderful deepsea wildlife.  New Zealand is very familiar with the value of these kinds of resources on land. The Department of Conservation has identified Kaikoura whale watching economic value over whaling.

We would have looked unfavorably on an authority if it had allowed the destruction of all vegetation in Milford Sound in the 19th century.  The public will decide how to regard the present government, if it is found that the most valuable ocean resources for tourism have been destroyed by bottom trawling.

As a result of destructive fishing, New Zealand stands on the same level of environmental disrepute as Japan, Norway and Iceland, which support commercial whaling in defiance of the rest of the world.

New Zealand sends a confused and conflicted message to the world on the marine environment, when the conservation branch of government strongly opposes Japan at the International Whaling Commission, and the fisheries branch allows the fishing industry to bottom trawl.


  Take action .....

Write to the Minister of Fisheries Jim Anderton ... express your opinion.

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Hon Jim Anderton
Minister of Fisheries, Parliament
Wellington, New Zealand

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Also send a copy to:
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister
Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Hon Chris Carter
Minister of Conservation
Hon David Benson-Pope
Minister for the Environment
Hon David Parker
Minister of Climate Change Issues
Hon Damien O'Connor
Minister of Tourism
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Trade

TerraNature has expressed the need for a bottom trawling ban to the Minister of Fisheries.

See TerraNature letter

Despite the damage that has already been inflicted on New Zealand’s environmental record, an opportunity exists for the nation to be one of the world’s leading environmental protection and sustainable use advocates.

Nothing would create a greater, more effective influence on the next session of the UN General Assembly, than a government self-imposed moratorium on all bottom trawling in the EEZ, and on New Zealand vessels trawling in the high seas.

The importance of interconnected ocean ecosystems .....

We now live in a world where science has established how reliant life on Earth is to interconnected systems.  And large-scale global interconnection can be expected in the world’s oceans.

There is a clear consensus amongst the scientific community that deepsea ecosystems perform important ecological functions, in spite of limited knowledge of them.

The peculiar characteristics of life in deep seabed environments, particularly hydrothermal vents, offer clues about the evolution of life on Earth.  Areas where methane hydrates are found provide an important service in the maintenance of global climate balance, as a result of their function as a greenhouse buffer.

The role of hydrothermal plumes in supporting upper zooplankton communities, demonstrates the importance of these ecosystems in maintaining the global carbon cycle.  Ecological interlinking has been observed between different deep seabed ecosystems, as well as between the ecosystems of different ocean realms.

The deepsea is increasingly recognised as a great reservoir of Earth’s biodiversity, comparable to the great biodiversity of tropical rainforests.  The annual loss of 52,000, and a total loss of 697,000 of rainforest in Brazil alone, has been identified by scientific sources to have a major impact on global climate change.

The world cannot afford the high risk of ignoring bottom trawling disturbance of 12,000,000 of continental shelf seafloor each year.

It should be anticipated that deepsea ecosystem destruction may have a major global impact on interconnected ocean systems, if not the entire global control mechanism.

The New Zealand government must vigorously step into the international process that will address interconnected systems, to determine an equality in sharing the natural resources of the high seas that all nations have a rightful interest in.

New Zealand must also broaden government decision-making on activities in the deep ocean.

Instead of favouring commercial fishing, the government must place the highest priority on the identification of undiscovered ecosystem functions, not the least of which might be to support regeneration of deepsea fish populations.  Urgent action is crucial because unknown species and possibly ecosystems are being lost by blind seafloor destruction before they can even be identified.

The long-term advantage of the best possible international “green” reputation for New Zealand, and the benefit for all food exports and tourism, must be weighed against the short-term financial gain of one primary industry.

The challenge for industry and the government requires foresight and courage, in adopting precautionary measures, to maintain the sustainability of natural resources on which the New Zealand fishing industry ultimately depends for its long-term survival.


Deepsea images (above), sea anemone bycatch from bottom trawling in the Tasman Sea (left).

Image Crown Copyright © Ministry of Fisheries

Aleutian Islands coral forest west of Alaska.
(center left & center right)

Photos Alberto Lindner, NOAA
View larger image

Mollusc on the Davidson Seamount off the California coast (center).

View larger image

Coffin fish at Macauley seamount on the Kermadec Ridge (right).

Photo NOAA
View larger image

Coral bycatch (below) from a New Zealand vessel bottom trawling in the high seas.

Image Crown Copyright © Ministry of Fisheries
View 70 images of bottom trawling bycatch

The public cannot be fooled by fake conservation.....

The proposal of the Deepwater Stakeholder Group Limited to close 31 percent of the New Zealand EEZ to bottom trawling is not universally acknowledged, as the significant and positive step the Minister of Fisheries has recognised.

A Ministry of Fisheries trawling map shows that very limited bottom trawling has occurred in the proposed areas to be closed.  In many areas the seafloor topography is too steep, uneven or rocky for bottom trawling gear to traverse, or the habitat is barren and void of bottom feeding fish.

A National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) study commissioned by the Department of Conservation states “… the focus of this proposal on existing areas that have both very low fishing value and low fish diversity, makes it a poor option for the long-term protection of demersal fish diversity …”.

It is apparent that the fishing industry has never had an interest in bottom trawling in the EEZ areas to be closed.

Nor is an agreement between the entities of the Southern Indian Ocean Deepwater Fishers’ Association (SIODFA) a positive step forward. The companies that trawl in the Southern Indian Ocean, propose to close 309,000 of Benthic Protected Area to any bottom trawling.

The operators of the five vessels that bottom trawl in the Southern Indian Ocean will simply move their operations outside the BPAs that have already been bottom trawled, to continue to fish in other locations of the Southern Indian Ocean.

The areas where trawling will continue have not been described, and no evidence has been provided to show that the new areas are anything different, or less ecologically sensitive.  SIODFA has not identified whether the areas to be trawled are representative of depths and benthic features of the Southern Indian Ocean, which the association claims has been established by independent scientists for the BPA areas.  This unexplored deepsea is one of the least known areas of the oceans.

The public cannot be fooled by duplicitous no-trawling schemes.  It is a national disgrace that the New Zealand government supports fake conservation instituted by fishing companies.

Copyright © 2006 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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