NZ Government: Stop the NZ fishing industry destroying ancient coral forests
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In March, New Zealand scientists confirmed that deep sea bottom trawl fishing is causing shocking and long-lasting damage to our deep-sea coral forests and other fragile ecosystems.
These deep-sea corals – found on seamounts (under-sea mountains) – are the ‘kauri of the deep sea’, growing slowly but living many hundreds of years. And like New Zealand's precious kauri, they are in immediate danger. These deep sea mountains form the habitat for countless species – they are teeming with marine life, and new deep sea creatures are being discovered there all the time.
Fishing companies drag heavily weighted nets across the seabed to catch fish like orange roughy and in the process they smash and destroy deep sea corals and sponges. The new research shows that even after 15 years, heavily trawled seamounts are still trashed and have not even begun to recover.
Not only has New Zealand’s fishing industry inflicted this damage on our own deep-sea coral forests, but some of our vessels are doing the same damage in the international waters of the South Pacific Ocean.
New Zealand is one of just two countries whose fishing fleets are still smashing up the South Pacific in this way. These waters have very little protection under regional or international agreements, yet even so, last year a New Zealand-flagged fishing vessel was caught fishing in a closed area and the company is being prosecuted.
In 2006, New Zealand joined the call by the UN to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems from destructive fishing practices. And yet New Zealand's fishing companies are still smashing the seabed, and leaning on the government to allow them to continue under our weak rules.
Under the current rules, which New Zealand was responsible for drafting, these fishing vessels are allowed to catch up to 300 kg of corals and sponges in a single tow of their net before they have to move their fishing spot. And what comes up in the nets is only a fraction of the damage caused to the seabed and its unique life forms. This is shocking, and must stop.
It is time to call it a day for this destructive fishery. New Zealand must end bottom trawl fishing on seamounts, and instead support research and protection of these deep-sea taonga (treasures).
Photo credit: NOAA
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