Two Greenpeace activists aboard Belize flagged Chinese bottom trawler Chang Xing in Port Nelson, New Zealand. The two activists along with one other attached to the mooring line stopped the vessel from leaving port.
The trawler was the notorious Chang Xing - one of the high seas
bottom trawlers that we happen know a lot about. We know that she
has been operating in several oceans, and we know that she destroys
deep-sea life wherever she goes. In June 2004, the Rainbow Warrior
headed into the international waters of the Tasman Sea to document
the activities of high seas bottom trawlers fishing for
slimehead (or, as it has been renamed to sound more appealing for
marketing purposes: Orange Roughy). And you guessed it -
there it was - the Chang Xing busily scouring the seafloor with
huge weighted nets hauling up everything and anything unlucky
enough to be in their way.
In the Chang Xing's wake, the Rainbow Warrior's crew picked up
all manner of weird and wonderful deep-sea creatures including a
delicate branch of endangered black coral that is protected under
CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species). All were thrown
over the side as unwanted 'by-catch".
Meanwhile, back on land, we
did a bit of extra research to determine the history and ownership
of the Chang Xing.
The Chang Xing flies the flag of Belize, but is owned by a
Chinese company with connections to New Zealand and Fijian
companies. Belize does not regulate the activities of its high
seas vessels and is one of the four main 'flag of convenience'
Belize (a small Caribbean nation) does not regulate the
activities of its high seas vessels. It is one country counted in
the top four 'flag-of-convenience' countries in a 2005 report
funded by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Forestry. In terms that Greenpeace uses, what the Chang Xing does,
is pirate fishing.
When the Rainbow Warrior observed the Chang Xing fishing, she
was bottom trawling for orange roughy oin the NW Challenger Plateau
in the Tasman Sea - within 20 miles of six licensed, New Zealand-
flagged bottom trawlers.
In September 2005, the New Zealand government announced that
"would be prepared to support in principle, the concept
of an interim global moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas
if such a proposal had sufficient support to be a practical and
enforceable option for improving biodiversity protection on the
That's a very long-winded way of saying that they would support
a moratorium if all other countries do too. Since then, we've heard
a whole lot of reasons why New Zealand won't support a moratorium.
One of the most important has been that it is only vessels flagged
to 'responsible' states (like New Zealand and Australia) that are
bottom trawling on the high seas and so it is not a big problem -
because they regulate their vessels.
The Chang Xing shows that is not the case. The
presence of New Zealand flagged bottom trawlers fishing nearby
underlines the fact that so-called 'responsible' vessels do the
same terrible damage to a sensitive and vulnerable deep-sea
ecosystem. These bottom trawlers all use the same fishing gear.
Nets weighing tens of tons that are dragged over the delicate and
ancient eco-systems destroying all in their path before scientists
even get a chance to see what is down there.
In June 2005, the Rainbow Warrior went
back to the Tasman Sea and recorded the New Zealand flagged
bottom trawler Waipori fishing for Orange Roughy. The Rainbow
Warrior crew recorded the Waipori hauling a huge 400 year old
Gorgonian coral in its nets. It took 2 men to throw the huge piece
over the side, dead. New Zealand is certainly responsible for the
damage caused by its vessel and is now also responsible for
supplying a known flag- of- convenience vessel. But because there
are no rules in place for most of the international waters of the
high seas when it comes to bottom trawling, New Zealand can say
that they have done nothing wrong. Doing nothing can sometimes
have huge consequences.
On July 30, 2006 a New Zealand
TV3 report quotes a spokesperson for the New Zealand Fisheries
Minister as saying that
"while the government supported a worldwide moratorium
it doubted it would happen because of a lack of political will from
What is New Zealand waiting for? It is a country known for its
sheep but not for acting like one.
When it came to the issue of defending the Pacific from nuclear
testing, New Zealand didn't say there was a lack of political will
and sit back and watch. New Zealand led the way to a nuclear- free
Pacific. Back in 1989/90, New Zealand led the successful political
push for a global moratorium on high seas 'walls of death' driftnet
fishing, without hesitation or wavering over whether Japan, South
Korea, Taiwan and other driftnet fishing countries would go along
with it. And earlier this year, New Zealand didn't argue there was
a lack of political will when it came to the issue of defending the
whales on the high seas from countries like Japan and Iceland.
On the high seas bottom trawling issue, there are already a
number of countries leading the way and they come from all corners
of the world: Brazil in Latin America, Sweden and the United
Kingdom in Europe, and Palau and Tuvalu in the Pacific. Isn't it
time that New Zealand found its mettle once again and stepped out
in front like they so often do, instead of hiding like sheep behind
excuses like "lack of political will"?
New Zealand, the trawl is in your court!
Stop bottom trawling
Send a note to Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and other responsible politicians.