20, Sep, 2006

Orange Roughy Cuts Welcomed but overdue

Category: ECO Inc

The Environment and Conservation Organisations today welcomed the decision by the Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton, to cut orange roughy quotas in the north and on the Chatham Rise but said they were long overdue.

ECO spokesperson, Barry Weeber, said the decision on the Chatham Rise orange roughy stocks followed new assessments for parts of the area which showed they were much less healthy than previously portrayed by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Mr Weeber said the substantial cut to the northern orange roughy stock and its removal from the adaptive management programme was overdue, but other action was needed to protect the animal communities on the seafloor from the impacts of bottom trawling and to stop the fishing effort just shifting to over fish somewhere else.

“It has been known for many years that the northern orange roughy management regime would mean that greater number of seamounts and their special marine life would be impacted by orange roughy bottom trawling.”

Mr Weeber said it was disappointing that the Minister had increased the sub-Antarctic catch limit for orange roughy. The sustainability of this area was unknown and increased effort will only spread the damage of bottom trawling to new hills and seamount features.

“The history of orange roughy fishing in New Zealand (and internationally) has been to severely over-fish populations and take corrective too late.” Mr Weeber said it has yet to be determined whether orange roughy fisheries are sustainable in the long term.

The Chatham Rise fishery was lauded internationally as a sustainable fishery but mounting evidence has shown that not to be the case. The new assessment estimates the current stock size on the north-west Chatham Rise at 11 percent of the unfished stock size and the north-east Chatham Rise hills has been reduced to 14 percent of the unfished stock size.

Mr Weeber said this is gross over-fishing when compared to the legal minimum stock size of 30 percent of the unfished level.

Mr Weeber said there was greater uncertainty over the state of the eastern Chatham Rise stock size. “The problem with assessment is that it is unclear whether a rebuild is actually taking place or whether it is an artefact on the model assumptions about recruitment. There are no estimates of orange roughy recruitment.”

Mr Weeber said ECO was disappointed by the size of cut in the rig or lemon shark catch limit for the north of the South Island. “This shark population has been in a sorry state for many years and catches have been well below the catch limit.”

For further information contact: Barry Weeber 04-389-1696 or 021-738-807.

1. ECO – the Environment and Conservation Organisations was established in 1972 and represents 62 groups with a concern for the environment.

2. Orange roughy are long-lived and have a maximum age of 120-130 years. They do not mature until they are around 30 years old.

3. Orange roughy are caught using the controversial method of bottom trawling which also destroys any corals, sponges and other three dimensional sea life on the bottom. Some of these coral removed have been aged at over 500 years old.

4. Whether orange roughy fisheries are sustainable in the long term has yet to be determined. “They have low levels of sustainable yields, are vulnerable to overfishing, and have slow recovery rates” (Clark M (2001) Are deepwater fisheries sustainable? – the example of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand. Fisheries Research 51 (2001) 123-135.). The Australian Minister for the Environment proposed in June that orange roughy be listed as an endangered species under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. (See http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/nominations/orange-roughy-listing.html).

5. There is poor reporting of bycatch species which are not of commercial interest. The AMP reporting of corals show very low rates which are inconsistent with reporting in other fisheries (Anderson O F and Clark M R (2003) Analysis of bycatch in the fishery for orange roughy, Holplostethus atlanticus, on the South Tasman Rise. Marine and Freshwater Research 2003, 54, 643-652.) and some of the early reports in this fishery. Unless there are independent observers on vessels the reports are poor or non-existent.

6. The Orange roughy northern fishery (ORH1) Adaptive Management Programme (AMP) catch limits and area controls has been exceeded over several years:
· Misreporting of catches from areas and features. We note that the Ministry of Fisheries is pursuing a prosecution against one quota holder and one vessel master and that the permit holder has pleaded guilty to some of the misreporting charges. This involves about 180 tonnes of misreported catch which is a very significant amount in this fishery.
· Area limits and feature limits have been exceeded on numerous instances in this AMP. The Area A limit of 200 tonnes was exceeded in the last three fishing years and Area D limit of 200 tonnes was exceeded in 2001-02.
· The 30 t limit for the Mercury-Colville features has been exceeded in three of the last four years including a catch of 64 tonnes in 2004-05. In part this included bycatch in the cardinal fish fishery.
· Monthly reporting has not met the requirements of the AMP MOU and industry undertakings.

6. The legal minimum for orange roughy stocks is 30 percent of the unfished stock size:
· North-west Chatham Rise: There is a new assessment for 2006 which indicates that the fishery is overfished with the best estimate of the current biomass being 11% of the unfished population size.
· North-east Chatham Rise hills: There was a new assessment for 2006 with indicated the fishery is overfished with the best estimate of the current biomass being 14% of the unfished population size.
· South Chatham Rise: The assessment was not updated by earlier assessment modelled the population at about 24% of the unfished size.