Greenpeace cautiously welcomes decision to protect deep sea life in the Pacific

Press release - 5 May, 2007
Greenpeace today cautiously welcomed an agreement which would protect deep-sea life in the South Pacific reached after this week's meeting to establish a South Pacific Regional Management Organisation (RFMO). Governments agreed to measures that would protect deep sea life from the damage caused by bottom trawl fishing in international waters, but failed to take effective steps towards precautionary management of the jack mackerel fish stocks in the region.

Key outcomes agreed at the meeting will mean that fishing vessels will not be allowed to bottom fish in areas that are identified or likely to have vulnerable marine ecosystems such as cold water corals and sponge fields, without prior assessment and measures. Conservation and management measures will need to be put in place before fishing can occur.

Other controls are placed such as vessel locator monitoring systems and observers on every bottom trawling vessel. Vessels will need to move on five nautical miles if they encounter vulnerable marine ecosystems. The measures will come into force on September 30th this year.

The outcomes are particularly relevant to New Zealand, whose fleet is responsible for 90% of the bottom trawling in the South Pacific region. New Zealand delegates told the meeting this week that such measures would severely constrain the ability of the New Zealand fishing industry to continue bottom trawling on the high seas around New Zealand and suggested that it may even have the effect of putting an end to bottom trawling.

"This agreement is an important step to protect the irreplaceable biodiversity of deep sea ecosystems," said Mike Hagler, Greenpeace New Zealand campaigner. "It is encouraging to see the New Zealand government strongly supporting measures to prevent destructive bottom fishing in the region. We will be watching to ensure that the New Zealand government now puts these proposals into action."

In addition to adopting an agreement on bottom fishing, countries at the meeting also grappled with how to limit fishing on the highly prized jack mackerel fishery. Here major fishing powers from Asia and Europe, keen to negotiate access to this valuable resource, pushed through an outcome that may have more ominous impact on fish stocks in the region.

In particular, Greenpeace considers that it was extremely disappointing that Russia, a major fishing nation, weakened the restraints on fishing these pelagic species.

"Allowing states with a fishing history in the region to freely move back into the South Pacific area in 2008 and 2009 will lead to a race by countries to boost their claim to fishing in this region," said Samuel Leiva, Greenpeace Chile. "With science telling us that jack mackerel stocks in the region are already fully exploited, merely asking states who are moving vessels back into the region to exercise "voluntary restraint" is completely irresponsible."

Greenpeace is calling on all states at the South Pacific RFMO negotiations to push for a final agreement that has at its heart the protection of the marine environment and applies an ecosystem and precautionary approach, something that wasn't taken into account this week in negotiations on the jack mackerel fishery.

Other contacts: Duncan Currie, Greenpeace International +64 21 632 335 Mike Hagler, Greenpeace New Zealand +64 21 321 379Samuel Leiva Greenpeace Chile +56 982 309 252 (Spanish)Isabel Leal, Greenpeace International media officer, +34 647 24 15 02.

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