New science released overnight shows bottom trawling releases more carbon dioxide than global aviation, coinciding with a renewed call from environmental groups for the Government to tackle the impacts of New Zealand’s bottom trawling industry. 

As this news came to light, a coalition of environment, conservation and recreational fisheries organisations have written to Fisheries Minister David Parker to stop trawl fleets from trashing deep sea life, warning that continued inaction is incompatible with New Zealand’s international obligations to protect biodiversity and prevent runaway climate change.

The letter, from eight organisations: Forest & Bird, ECO, Greenpeace, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, LegaSea, NZ Sport Fishing, Our Seas Our Future and WWF-NZ, warns of the terrible destruction being wrought on vulnerable seabed ecosystems by our bottom trawling fleet.

Bottom trawling is a highly destructive fishing activity that drags heavy nets across the seafloor destroying deep sea corals and other marine life. In doing so, it not only destroys biodiversity, but also releases carbon stored in the seabed. 

Jessica Desmond, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Aotearoa said bottom trawling is a double whammy for the ocean, destroying biodiversity while simultaneously disturbing the world’s largest carbon sink.

“For two decades, environmentalists have been urging the Government to protect ocean wildlife from the habitat destroying practice of bottom trawling. This new science shows that there’s another side to that coin – releasing a gigaton of carbon that has been stored away in the ocean.”.

Kevin Hague, CEO of Forest & Bird, said: 

“In the last 12 months alone, 29 species of coral have been trawled up in nets in New Zealand waters. Scientific studies show that deep sea corals can take up to 30 years to even begin to recover from the damage.” 

“Entire protected coral habitats are allowed to be destroyed because it’s officially considered unintended. There is nothing unintended about rolling huge heavy nets across the seabed smashing everything in their way,” the groups point out in the letter

The groups are calling on the Government to: 

  • Immediately protect seamounts and similar features
  • Immediately freeze the current bottom trawling footprint based on a 2006 baseline
  • Require fishers to shift five nautical miles from where they’re fishing  if they start dragging up corals 
  • Require all trawl fishing gear to be off the seafloor within seven years