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No environmental consideration of bottom trawling in orange roughy allowable catch decision

15 November 2007

Bottom trawling is the only fishing method used in the orange roughy fishery of the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone.  So a reduction in the orange roughy total allowable commercial catch (TACC) means a little less bottom trawling.

But ongoing, environmentally uncontrolled bottom trawling in the EEZ contradicts the position New Zealand took at the United Nations in the autumn of 2006, and interim measures currently being adopted by the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO).

There is no indication that the fisheries management system in the EEZ is addressing environmental issues.

After New Zealand's weak position on a proposed United Nations moratorium on bottom trawling was reported by TerraNature in 2006, the Ministers of Fisheries, External Affairs, and Conservation issued a joint statement claiming that the government was taking a strong stance on bottom trawling.

On September 25th 2006 the Minister of Fisheries Jim Anderton said "... New Zealand already had a very good system of management within its own EEZ that ensured fisheries would remain sustainable and that environmental issues were addressed ..."

Catches in most of the major fisheries are set close to the maximum sustainable level.  The Ministry of Fisheries states that it is not enough to just manage catches sustainably.

According to Ministry documents, the effects fishing has on the wider environment - fish and other creatures caught or killed during fishing, habitat damage, and the flow-on effects on marine ecosystems must also be considered.

The Ministry of Fisheries states that in order to manage fishing's "footprint" on other species, and on marine habitats and ecosystems, limits must be set around the level of effect that is acceptable, and what is not.

These government fishing management policies are being ignored.  Damage to the marine ecosystems that provide fish habitat is not considered in quota decisions.

In 2005, the Ministry of Fisheries set out a Strategy for Managing the Environmental Effects of Fishing (SMEEF), describing how these limits will be set.

SMEEF says "Three key factors will be considered when setting environmental limits: weighing up whether effects on species or habitats are sustainable in the long-term; what society feels is the right balance between use and protection; and what the needs of future generations might be."

Above: 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.
Photo Crown Copyright © Ministry of Fisheries.
See slide show of 70 bycatch images
See article "Orange roughy commercial catch reduced to an all time low"

When introducing SMEEF in 2005, Minister of Fisheries, David Benson-Pope said "... managing fishing's imprint on non-target species, on marine habitats, and on the wider ecosystems in our oceans is to be as important as maintaining the target fish stocks themselves ..."

In a letter to TerraNature on October 27th 2006, Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton said "... SMEEF seeks to establish acceptable limits of, among other things, the impact of bottom trawling ..."

In his determination of 2007-08 orange roughy quotas, Jim Anderton made no reference to SMEEF considerations.

In the Minister's report "Review of sustainability measures and other management controls for the 2007-08 fishing year", which explains the 1,000t catch reduction in the Chatham Rise and Southern New Zealand orange roughy fishery, he said "... I am dissatisfied with the information that is currently available ... the inability to age the fish, to estimate recruitment, or to delineate the stocks, appears to me to severely limit the ability of the model to support management decisions ... there needs to be a change in the way this fishery is managed ..."

When making TACC reductions effective from October 1st 2006, Mr Anderton said he was aware of the ongoing difficulties of managing orange roughy and that he would be monitoring the fishery to ensure catch limits are set at a sustainable level.

The Minister's consecutive dissatisfactions during the last two years are a blatant contradiction of the "very good system of management" he referred to on September 25th 2006 when defending New Zealand's so-called strong stance on bottom trawling at the United Nations.

The New Zealand government supports South Pacific RFMO interim bottom trawling measures, but is not taking the same measures in the EEZ.

The Fisheries Minister, Jim Anderton, said on September 14th how pleased he was with the RFMO's precautionary and ecosystem approach which advocates long term sustainability over short term fishing opportunities, especially when information is uncertain, and takes environmental impacts into account.

The question now remains whether New Zealand will force its fishing fleet to adhere to South Pacific RFMO voluntary interim measures, which it could have done in 2006 or sooner, in accordance with its alleged "strong stance on bottom trawling".

Or will the government turn a blind eye, just as it has ignored its' own SMEEF management strategies, to allow bottom trawling to continue to destroy benthic ecosystems in the EEZ.

Impractical South Pacific RFMO voluntary interim measures

New Zealand supports voluntary interim measures for bottom fishing and pelagic fisheries adopted this year by the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) in Renaca, Chile in May, and Noumea in September. The measures took effect on September 30th.

The RFMO requires that bottom trawling may only continue if a peer-review is satisfied there will be no significant adverse effect on vulnerable seamount, hydrothermal vent, cold water coral and sponge field ecosystems.

Areas where vulnerable ecosystems are known or likely to occur must be closed to bottom fishing unless, conservation and management measures are established, or it is determined that bottom fishing will not have significant adverse impacts on vulnerable ecosystems, and the long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks.

It is known from bycatch that deepsea coral is destroyed by bottom trawling.  RFMO voluntary interim measures requiring fishers to show there will be no adverse effect are impractical.

The collection of deepsea data and species at depths of 800 to 1500 metres, and the definition of ecosystems is a very expensive undertaking that will take many years. Expectation that the fishing industry will do it voluntarilly and immediately is unrealistic.

Even finding species or benthic habitats within the vast expanse of the high seas is an undaunting task.

With terrestrial natural resource exploitation, the equivalent of RFMO interim measures is an environmental impact statement.  An EIS will often stop activities based on the protection of one species. An EIS is not normally required to define an ecosystem.

It cannot be determined that bottom trawling will not have significant adverse impacts on vulnerable ecosystems, because ecosystems cannot be immediately defined.

It is impossible for bottom trawling to have no significant adverse impact on vulnerable ecosystems, because it destroys everything in its path over large areas.

Instead, restrictions are necessary on the destruction of known vulnerable species, especially slow-growing and long-living species such as coral.  This will simply exclude bottom trawling.

The Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton, has confirmed that the new rules would limit high seas bottom trawling by New Zealand vessels.

“It will be a challenge for New Zealand vessels to satisfy the assessment and requirements of the new rules.  However, the industry has known for some time that these controls were likely and that they would have to meet them if they want to keep on bottom trawling on the high seas,” he said.

Copyright © 2007 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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