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Benthic Protection Areas

In April 2007, the Government decided to accept an Industry proposal to close 17 areas to bottom trawling, providing protection to an area of seabed habitat equal to 1.2 million square kilometres, or an area four times the landmass of New Zealand. This is the largest single marine protection initiative in a nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) anywhere in the world.

The regulations closing the Benthic Protection Areas to bottom trawling and dredging will take effect on 15 November 2007. Until that time, Industry has agreed to voluntarily prohibit trawling in the areas.

Prior to the BPAs being implemented, the level of protection in the EEZ (that area from 12 to 200 nautical miles from land) remains about 2 percent, mostly through closures around seamounts (underwater mountains).

With the BPAs implemented, New Zealand will have protected 32 percent of its EEZ. This total protected area will include:

  • 28 percent of Underwater Topographic Features (including seamounts);
  • 52 percent of seamounts (underwater mountains over 1000 metres in height); and
  • 88 percent of active hydrothermal vents.

Seamounts and hydrothermal vents were mentioned specifically by the United Nations as habitats in need of particular protection.

Work will continue in the offshore to determine the extent to which BPAs represent habitat types; additional closures to fill in the gaps will be considered in the future.


The Ministry of Fisheries worked with the Department of Conservation and the fishing industry to produce an initial position paper for public consultation.

Twenty-eight submissions were received, including a Greenpeace Internet form submission (1614 copies via email).

Based on the advice in the submissions, several parts of the proposal were amended:
Three new areas have been added, which increases the number of underwater topographic features, seamounts, and hydrothermal vents covered by the proposal.

The initial proposal required an agreement by Government not to close further areas in the EEZ, except with substantial new information. This was amended to ensure the Marine Protected Area process will continue within the Territorial Sea (from the coast to the 12-mile limit), although full implementation of the MPA in the EEZ will be delayed until 2013. The Government can close further areas before 2013 if significant new information warrants it.

The initial proposal did not require the fishing industry to fund further deepwater seabed research. This was amended so that the fishing industry will pay a share – 33% of deepwater benthic research, up to $330,000 a year.

The initial proposal incorporated the existing seamount closures into BPAs. This was amended such that the seamount closures will remain, with their current level of protection – a full prohibition on all forms of trawling and dredging.
The proposal will no longer be recognised in legislation.


Off-bottom trawl fishing is permitted with strict controls:  

  • Prior to entering a benthic protection area (BPA) vessel operators must notify the Fisheries Communication Centre of the fisher’s intention to trawl in a BPA and which BPA they intend to trawl in; 
  • Must be carrying two observers and notify the intention to commence trawling in a BPA to one of the observers on board; 
  • Must carry an electronic net monitoring system (ENMS) that continuously records, when trawling:
    • The depth of the ground rope and seabed; 
    • The date and time; 
    • The latitude and longitude of the vessel; 
    • Any other information that may be required.
  • The use of an automatic location communicator by all vessels used at any time of the year to trawl in a BPA.

The Ministry has issued a circular that specifies the standards and requirements that apply to ENMS for use within a BPA.

PDF icon.  Download the circular (PDF 13KB)

To ensure that there is little risk of any gear ever touching the bottom, a buffer zone of 100 metres has been set. Fishing within 100 metres of the bottom is a criminal offence.

Furthermore, fishing within 50 metres is a serious criminal offence, attracting a fine of up to $100,000 and seizure of the vessel.


Since 1989, trawling has occurred in 16 of the 17 areas, although 77% of this fishing has occurred in three areas. Since 1989, records show that over 18,300 tonnes of fish have been caught during trawl tows that began and/or ended in the BPA areas.

It is prudent to provide protection to marine habitats even if current technology has not developed to the extent that their exploitation is economically feasible.


The most notable of these closures occurred in November 2000. The then Minister of Fisheries, Pete Hodgson, announced a prohibition on all trawling and dredging in 18 areas within the EEZ (c. 115,200 km2) to protect the seabed environment; in particular, 19 seamounts that were within those areas.


For the short term, the focus of marine protection will shift to the Territorial Sea (from the coast to the 12-mile limit), where the problems are more immediate and most acute – where the risks to marine biodiversity are greatest and where the highest economic, social and cultural values are found.

The Marine Protected Areas Policy was released in January 2006. The objective of the MPA Policy is to: Protect marine biodiversity by establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas that is comprehensive and representative of New Zealand’s marine habitats and ecosystems.

Marine Protected Areas take in a number of protection mechanisms, including marine reserves, marine parks, mätaitai, taiapure, rähui, fisheries closures, seasonal closures and marine mammal sanctuaries.

Marine Protected Areas>>

The Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation are working jointly to progress marine protection under this policy.

All of the preparatory work needed for the offshore MPA process will continue. Only the designation of new areas in the EEZ (from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore) will be postponed by a few years.

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Updated : 5 August 2009

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NZ Fisheries InfoSite

Map showing general locations
of Benthic Protection Areas

Map showing general locations of benthic protection areas.
Click to view larger image.