On World Oceans Day, 8 June 21, the Environment and Conservation
Organisations of Aotearoa NZ Inc (ECO), calls for an end to bottom trawling
on seamounts and other underwater ecosystems.
New Zealand needs urgently to lift its game to protect oceans and the amazing creatures and complex marine ecosystems and their habitats says Cath Wallace, fisheries management expert and ECO Co-chair.
Our vessels account for 90% of the bottom trawling in the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management area. Most of the companies involved also oppose the declaration of marine protected areas and strict move-on rules to protect vulnerable marine species and ecosystems, so the safeguards for the marine
environment are often weakened or abandoned. Coldwater corals and other sessile (seabed attached) creatures such as hydroids are at particular risk, they’re ancient and easily broken or turned into rubble, with consequent further and lengthy losses of the ecosystem and habitat function.
It is tragic and wholly avoidable that New Zealand fishing by bottom trawling and other seafloor dragging methods of fishing is destroying ancient and highly specialised and wonderful complexes of underwater life, not only around New Zealand but also in the South Pacific. It is time to stand up to the big fishing companies and to call a halt to the carnage, says Wallace. It is not only seabed organisms and ecosystems that are wrecked: marine mammals such as threatened dolphins, fur seals, turtles, and many more are also drowned routinely.
Bottom trawling has been demonstrated globally (Salas et al 2021) to release about as much or more greenhouse gases than the global aviation industry. This is because trawling stirs up the carbon that has accumulated on the seafloor and it gets released into the water column. That exacerbates ocean acidification which in turn reduces the health of organisms that form shells and other calcium carbonate structures. Because of the New Zealand bottom trawling fleet that works extensively around and beyond New Zealand and our EEZ catching hoki, ling, alfonsino, and orange roughy, New Zealand must have a high bottom trawling emissions profile. Hoki fishing, ostensibly mid-water trawling, habitually has great hawsers and nets that touch the bottom.
On this World Oceans Day, 8 June, we note that nations are right now working together to address the losses of marine species and ocean systems and there is a global biodiversity meeting in Kunming, China in October 2021.
On Wednesday, 9 June 21, we will see the Report to government by the independent Climate Change Commission. We hope that the government will address greenhouse emissions from fishing, seabed mining, and other marine activities. These have largely been ignored, yet ocean health and abundance are crucial.
The New Zealand government, particularly the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Ministry for the Environment, and the Department of Conservation are tolerating virtually irreparable harms by the big industrial fishing companies because of pressures from the fishing industry though MPI is finally taking some prosecutions. In the last few years vessels from several of the large companies have been or are being prosecuted for illegal, unreported, or unauthorised fishing (IUU). The wreckage of ruined corals, hydroids, starfishes, and many “bycatch” species, some many decades, hundreds or thousands of years old, not only represents depletion of fish stocks but the ruin of the habitats for juvenile fish and other
creatures. Recovery of the colonies of coral and other habitat-forming animals left behind is very slow if it recovers at all, according to research. Bottom trawled areas take decades even to start to recover.
ECO notes that there is a 55,000 signature petition calling for an end to bottom trawling on deep-sea seamounts. It is waiting to be heard by a Parliamentary Select Committee. It was organised by members of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Greenpeace, ECO, and a range of other organisations. “We are waiting to hear what action MP’s will recommend and what action the government will take. The Committee has been given a good deal of evidence and has advice from government agencies and no doubt also from industry. It is essential that the destruction stops, says Cath Wallace. It is well past the time that the government steps up and stops the destruction. We can thrive if the oceans thrive: it is time to act.
Contact Cath Wallace at 021 891 994 or Barry Weeber 021 738 807
ECO co-vice chair Barry Weeber is speaking in Christchurch at 7:30pm on 8 June.
The UN’s biodiversity conference, Cop15, to be held in Kunming, China, is expected to produce a global agreement for nature, building on the targets already set by some nations to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 – but these must be genuinely protected areas, not fake ones like the fishing industry
fake protected areas called Benthic Protected Areas but known as Bogus Protected Areas.
Enric Sala, Juan Mayorga, Darcy Bradley, et al, (Feb 2021) Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate, Nature Online, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03371-z.