Cabinet decisions on deepwater biodiversity
24 September 2004
A multi-pronged strategy to improve the protection of deep water biodiversity and address the environmental threat from bottom trawling was announced today by Acting Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Jim Sutton, Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope, and Conservation Minister Chris Carter.
The Ministers said the strategy reflected New Zealand concerns about the environmental impact of bottom trawling - using trawl nets in contact with the seabed, particularly on underwater mountains called seamounts.
"Bottom trawling can take a heavy toll on marine life in vulnerable areas and it is in everybody's interests to improve management of the practice throughout the world," the Ministers said.
The Ministers said the most practical solution globally to problems caused by bottom trawling was to have more effective management within regions of the high seas. In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand was already working with Australia to identify areas for protection in the Tasman Sea, they said. The two countries had also identified the need for a regional management framework to control fishing in the Tasman.
New Zealand would take a leadership role in promoting improved capacity and geographic reach of regional fisheries management organisations so that the effects of bottom trawling could be addressed, the Ministers said.
New Zealand would also seek to work with other countries in the region and internationally to improve biodiversity protection of the high seas and develop practical, enforceable outcomes, they said.
"We will be looking to advance discussions at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and with regional partners to get a strong resolution for interim targeted bans on bottom trawling in vulnerable areas while effective management frameworks are being developed," the Ministers said.
Domestically, the Government would work with the New Zealand seafood industry to explore immediate voluntary measures in some high seas areas, they said. These could include closing specific areas to bottom trawling or modifications to fishing gear.
The Ministers noted that there did not appear to be broad support for an interim global moratorium on high seas bottom trawling, and this was unlikely to form the basis of a proposal at UNGA.
Bottom trawling is a widely used fishing method employed by most fishing nations. There are thought to be 20-30 New Zealand flagged vessels currently involved in the practice in the high seas
There are tens of thousands of vulnerable seamounts within the Pacific basin and only a small fraction have been scientifically explored or fished. The Ministry of Fisheries and NIWA have been carrying out research on seamounts, and in New Zealand waters 19 seamounts covering a total area of some 100,000km2 were closed to bottom trawling in May 2001.