BRADEN FASTIER/Nelson Mail
Crew of the Sealord fishing vessel Otakou. Nelson-based Sealord is one of more than 50 seafood companies in the New Zealand deepwater fisheries sector.
“Misinformation” about trawling on seamounts painted an incorrect picture of the practice, says a deepwater seafood industry group.
The Deepwater Group made a submission to Parliament’s environment select committee this week.
In August the committee heard from the Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition about the destructive impact of bottom trawling in New Zealand waters. It submitted a 52,000-signature petition calling for a ban on the fishing practice on seamounts, or underwater mountains, and similar deep-sea features.
In its submission to the committee the industry group – which represents quota owners of New Zealand’s deepwater fisheries – said it strongly disagreed with the need to ban bottom trawling on seamounts, “not only because of a low risk to corals and seabed habitats as a result of careful and balanced management but doing so would be disproportional to the balance that is both intended and required by the Fisheries Act 1996”.
Food production was an essential component of New Zealand’s social and economic wellbeing, it stated, and a balance between retaining natural ecosystems and designating areas for food production was essential.
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Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement told committee members it was important that both the select committee and the public had the correct scientific information to decide whether any additional management measures might be needed.
“While we acknowledge the work of the various conservation groups behind this petition, we are concerned with the level of misinformation that has been provided to government in support of it,” Clement said.
“Many of the conclusions, along with much of the reference material, are only relevant in an international context and are not directly applicable within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”
One example, Clement said, was that the petition stated there were more than 800 known seamounts in New Zealand’s EEZ. However, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, and Fisheries New Zealand, had advised the Deepwater Group there were 142 seamounts, 127 of which were either closed to bottom trawling or have never been fished.
The group’s submission stated the coalition’s petition report incorrectly characterised seamounts as “any geographically isolated topographic feature on the seafloor taller than 100m”. The deepwater group believed the internationally accepted definition of a seamount was an underwater feature more than 1000m high, and that smaller features were known as knolls and hills.
Clement said New Zealand’s EEZ was well managed, with 91 per cent of its seabed untouched, having never been contacted by bottom trawling.
Bottom trawling was excluded by law from large closed areas, which together covered about 31 per cent of the EEZ, and bottom trawling only happened in limited areas.
Annually 700 million servings of seafood were produced from fishing 1.1 per cent of the EEZ, and while like all forms of food production harvesting seafood had some impacts on the environment, New Zealand’s marine conservation measures ensured those impacts were well within acceptable limits, Clement said.
The Deepwater Group submitted that management of the EEZ was recognised internationally as being second to none and that bottom trawling did not provide an existential threat to either coral populations or to benthic biodiversity on seamounts as asserted by the Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition.