VICTORY! Bottom trawling scuttled

The end of bottom trawling in the South Pacific is in sight

Feature story - May 14, 2007
So far 2007 seems a year of victory. First the fall of Marsden B and now an end to bottom trawling in the South pacific.

Taken by a fisheries observer on board a NZ bottom trawler, this photo shows a large piece of red coral being hoisted out of a bottom trawl net. (Note more coral in the net).

12-06-2005, West Norfolk Ridge, international waters Tasman Sea: Crewman on the New Zealand bottom trawler Waipori dump a large piece of 'Paragorgia' coral dredged from the deep sea in their net.

12-06-2005, West Norfolk Ridge, Tasman Sea: A 400 year old Paragorgia coral being hauled aboard the New Zealand bottom trawler Waipori.

12-06-2005, West Norfolk Ridge, International Waters, Tasman Sea: Fishermen on the New Zealand bottom trawler Waipori work to clear coral including endangered Cites listed Leiopathes and Bathypathes corals endemic to seamounts dredged up in their net.

12-06-2005, West Norfolk Ridge, Tasman Sea: Crew on New Zealand bottom trawler Waipori wrestle with a large piece of 400 year old Paragorgia coral hauled up from the deep-sea.

We've been saying for some time now that the indiscriminate damage to deep sea life in international waters by bottom trawling must stop. As fish become more and more scarce in coastal waters the fishing industry have gone ever deeper and further afield. In the last 20 years bottom trawling down to depths of 2,000 meters in international waters has become increasingly common.  Bottom trawling is literally strip mining the deep sea environment or like using a bulldozer to catch possums.  In an environment that includes ancient coral forests, fragile sponge communities, seamounts and a myriad of sea life much of which is yet to be understood.

But now, thanks to the tireless campaigning of a lot of people we have achieved a reprieve, at least in the South Pacific.

Commitments were made at the UN General Assembly back in 2006 to protect the bio-diversity of the deep-sea from bottom trawling but the responsibility for putting this into practice was passed to regional organisations.  In early May this year the key countries for the South Pacific region met in Renaca, Chile and they reached a surprisingly good outcome.

That agreement which takes effect on 30 September 2007, puts the burden of proof, that damage will not be done to vulnerable deep sea ecosystems by bottom trawling, onto the fishing industry. The new measures potentially mean that the New Zealand fleet, which is responsible for some 90% of the high seas bottom trawling in the South Pacific region, will have to cease and desist.

NZ's delegation leader told the meeting in Chile that adoption of the measures  "...would severely constrain the ability of the New Zealand fishing industry to continue bottom trawling on the high seas around New Zealand.   Because of the cost implications of the necessary research and assessment and observer requirements, it may even have the effect of putting an end to bottom trawling."

But the real cost of bottom trawling is far higher so we think it's a good result!

The high seas of the South Pacific (those areas beyond national jurisdiction of the Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ) contain the last and largest pristine deep-sea marine environment on earth, representing about 25% of the all high seas areas of the entire world's oceans. 

After September 30th 2007  with the new agreement bottom trawling will be prohibited where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known or are likely to occur.  For any bottom trawling that might continue beyond this date, rigorous scientific assessments must be done to show that vulnerable marine ecosystems will not be harmed.  Based on these assessments, which will be open to public input, strict control measures are to be imposed to ensure protection for deep-sea coral forests, sponge communities and other types of vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems.     Bottom trawlers will also be prevented from  expanding into any new areas and the number of vessels and their catch and effort will be 'frozen' at current levels.  In other words, no expansion can happen.   

All bottom trawlers will be required to carry official observers and be equipped with vessel location monitoring devices that keep track of their movements.  If, during the course of fishing, there is evidence that a bottom trawler has made contact with a vulnerable marine ecosystem, it must stop fishing and move at least five nautical miles away from the location.

This is in line with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution on high seas bottom trawling agreed in New York in December 2006.

Greenpeace has campaigned globally to protect deep sea biodiversity and  for such control over destructive high seas bottom trawling since 2004.   In New Zealand, we sent the "Rainbow Warrior" into the Tasman Sea in 2004 and 2005 to take direct action and document the destruction caused by the New Zealand bottom trawling fleet.   We took our evidence to the United Nations, the NZ people in a nationwide tour and urged the Prime Minister to ensure that our Government took a leadership role internationally in ending the destruction of deep-sea life.  This is a great victory for the Greenpeace oceans campaign, for the fish and other  deep sea critters and habitats..  It spells the end of the deep-sea deforestation caused by the strip mining approach to fishing done by bottom trawlers in the high seas of the South Pacific.

And we couldn't have done it without the many thousands of Greenpeace members who got in behind the campaign in so many ways. Great job!!

Opening statement of the delegation of New Zealand to the Third Meeting for the Establishment of the South Pacific Regional Management Organization, Renaca, Chile 30 April - 4 May 2007

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