Environment and conservation groups today expressed astonishment at the admission by fishing company Sealord that it must continue destroying deep sea life by bottom trawling on seamounts.
The company announced what it called a “breakthrough” in its policy on fishing seamounts today, arguing that while it wants some of the seamounts in Aotearoa’s waters to be protected, but also that it needs to continue fishing on others, admitting that seamounts have been “damaged by past fishing activity”.
“We are facing an extinction crisis and underwater mountains are known to be oases of deep sea corals, sponges and other ancient and fragile deep sea life. We can’t leave it up to the trawl sector of the fishing industry to pick and choose biodiversity hotspots to keep trashing,” said Karli Thomas of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition in Aotearoa (1).
“This is no breakthrough – it’s a breakout – it’s simply continuing the terrible damage that has been done to our corals already. It’s way past time for the fishing industry to pick up its game, and get its nets off seamounts and features.
“For the trawl industry, this is business as usual, or worse. Bottom trawling on seamounts needs to stop, period. This is a view shared by just under 80% of the New Zealand public, in a recent poll.”
NIWA has identified over 800 seamounts in New Zealand waters, but the trawl industry has been trying to whittle it down to a list of only 142 of the tallest, and still wants to continue destroying some of them. This includes some seamounts that have not been fished for at least ten years – potentially wiping out a decade of precious recovery time for these slow-growing fragile corals.
“Imagine letting the bulldozers and chainsaws onto Mt Te Aroha, Mt Manaia, Moehau – just because they don’t reach 1000 metres in height. That’s what the trawl industry is trying to do by disregarding seamounts less than 1000m, of which there are many,” said Barry Weeber of Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO).
The New Zealand trawl industry is also dragging the chain internationally, as the only fleet still trawling on seamounts in the South Pacific high seas.
“If it wasn’t for a handful of New Zealand vessels, the South Pacific seamounts and the amazing deep sea life they are home to would be safe from destructive trawl nets,” said Thomas.
Sealord’s announcement comes just ahead of the first meeting next Tuesday of the government’s new “benthic forum”, set up by the government to discuss a way forward on benthic protection from activities such as bottom trawling.
“This is a cynical move that’s more about trying to be seen to be protecting seamounts, but actually is simply this industry continuing to argue that it cannot fish without destroying deep sea life. Indeed, it confirms what we’ve been saying for quite some time, and only underlines the need for the government to ban bottom trawling on seamounts and features altogether,” said Weeber.