No conclusion on banning bottom trawling of seamounts, but joint work requested

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Parliament's Select Environment Committee is urging stakeholders such as conservationists, the fishing industry and government agencies to work together to tackle the problem of bottom trawling on seamounts.

BRADEN FASTER / Stuff

Parliament’s Select Environment Committee is urging stakeholders such as conservationists, the fishing industry and government agencies to work together to tackle the problem of bottom trawling on seamounts.

A parliamentary select committee has not come to a conclusion on whether to ban bottom trawling on seamounts, but is urging those affected to work together on the issue.

Parliament’s Select Environment Committee has looked into the issue of fishing around seamounts – seamounts – and published its recommendation this week for Parliament’s House of Representatives to take note of its report.

In November 2020, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition submitted a petition with 52,443 signatures calling for a ban on bottom trawling on seamounts and other similar features on the high seas and an end to the issuance of permits for bottom trawling in international waters.

The select committee said in its report that the majority of its members had not come to a conclusion as to the scientific necessity and economic relevance of a ban on bottom trawling on seamounts and similar features. . However, he encouraged the parties involved to work together quickly to address the concerns raised by the petition, saying he wanted to see progress on the issue.

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The government has created a stakeholder forum to make recommendations on potential management measures to avoid, remediate or mitigate the negative effects of bottom trawling on the benthic environment.

Conservation groups argue that trawling destroys the delicate ecosystems, including corals, that thrive on seamounts and that existing protections for seamounts in New Zealand waters are inadequate.

In its report, the select committee said the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and the Deepwater Group, representing deep-sea fishing quota holders, had differing views.

Deepwater Group disagreed with the coalition’s definition of seamounts and also with the need to ban bottom trawling on them, saying the fishing practice posed a low risk to corals and seabed habitats through careful and balanced management.

Submissions from government agencies confirmed that the issue of bottom trawling was a complex one, the select committee said. Government agencies said there was a gap in the information and data available to properly inform decision-making.

Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement said the <a class=fishing industry was open to considering further closures of bottom trawling grounds if they were found to be beneficial to marine conservation.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>

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Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement said the fishing industry was open to considering further closures of bottom trawling grounds if they were found to be beneficial to marine conservation.

The select committee’s report said the Department of Conservation and the Department of Primary Industries believed that the impacts of bottom trawling on protected species and other groups of seabed organisms were of sufficient environmental concern to justify consideration of additional management.

Karli Thomas, oceans advocate for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, said he was disappointed with the select committee’s report, but hoped for good outcomes from the forum, with enhanced protection of biodiversity around the seamounts. sailors.

The New Zealand trawling industry was the only fleet still trawling seamounts in the South Pacific, she said, and it had to stop. The coalition petition now had 70,000 signatures.

She was pleased to see in the select committee’s report that the Green Party believed the government needed to take urgent action to protect seamounts, deep-sea corals and other vulnerable and biologically diverse marine ecosystems. in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and on the high seas of the South Pacific by prohibiting bottom trawling.

Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement said the industry had long recognized the international environmental significance of seamounts, which it viewed as large underwater structures at 1,000m or more above sea level. .

“Just like on land, where we manage national parks around large mountains (such as Mt Ruapehu and Mt Taranaki), the industry recognizes the need to appropriately manage large seamounts by setting them aside. and protecting large marine areas – an approach that has already been implemented,” Clément said.

He said that in New Zealand’s EEZ, which stretches from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore, 31% were prohibited by law from bottom trawling – protective measures initiated by the seafood industry in 2006 Those closures included 50% of the seamounts, he said.

“The industry is open to considering new closures, if these prove useful for marine conservation.”

Clement said that each year the industry harvests 700 million servings of seafood in New Zealand’s EEZ, contacting only 1.3% of the area, while more than 90% of the EEZ remains unaffected by the human activities.

The forum, which includes representatives from Fisheries New Zealand, the Department of Conservation, environmental groups and the fishing industry, is due to make its recommendations to Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker later this year .

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