‘Shameful politics’ criticism for NZ fishing stand
THE Government is again under fire for putting commercial fishing interests ahead of conservation at an international meeting and is being accused of ‘‘shameful politics’’.
An inter-government body in charge of regulating high seas fishing in the South Pacific meets this week in Manta, Ecuador.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an umbrella group of NGOs, has long accused officials of lobbying on behalf of industrial fishing at the annual forum of 15 member countries.
Now, it points to New Zealand’s support for a proposal on bottom trawling of seamounts, underwater mountains that are home to delicate, slow-growing coral, and sea sponges. But officials reject the criticism.
Delegates are due to launch a review of bottom-trawling rules, which was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The coalition says that under one model, the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) would allow bottom trawling of more than 30% of seamounts.
By advocating for the plan, New Zealand is undermining its international obligations, and reputation, advocate Karli Thomas says.
Just a handful of national fleets use the practice of dragging heavy fishing gear across the seabed features, and New Zealand is the only country doing it in the South Pacific.
‘‘This approach takes a dangerous step towards trading off the interests of the fishing industry against biodiversity protection, an illegal approach that is counter to the UN resolutions New Zealand has signed up to and the [United Nations] Law of the Sea Convention,’’ Thomas said.
‘‘This flies in the face of earlier agreements to protect these precious underwater ecosystems, including SPRFMO’s own Convention rules.’’
Thomas also said the ‘‘damaging proposal’’ is based on ‘‘inexact science’’ and ‘‘shameful politics’’ and urged New Zealand to adopt the same precautionary approach it has taken to deep-sea mining at international forums.
The coalition is also critical of a proposal to allow fishing companies to carry over their annual catch limits (called Total Allowable Catches or TAC) to the next season.
It comes after the bottom trawl fleet reported low catches of orange roughy in 2021 – but New Zealand said it didn’t moot the idea.
‘‘The proposal is not based on any scientific analysis or assessment of the likely impact on stocks, species caught as bycatch or vulnerable marine ecosystems from the increased intensity of fishing,’’ Thomas said.
But the Ministry for Primary Industries has pushed back at the criticism. James Brown, manager international fisheries management, said: ‘‘What we are supporting would in fact strengthen protections . . . New Zealand is active internationally to further the protection of the marine environment and ensure fishing is managed on the basis of science and a precautionary approach.’’
Brown says the new model would shield between 70-90% of species present in a ‘vulnerable marine ecosystem’.
‘‘SPRFMO considers vulnerable marine ecosystems as a whole, not just seamounts. This more comprehensive approach sets it apart from many Regional Fisheries Management Organisations,’’ he said.
‘‘At present, there is no minimum level of area protection in the SPRFMO area for benthic (seabed) species including corals and sponges, so this would be an increase in protection.’’
Brown says the country is recognised for strong fisheries management. ‘‘It is incorrect to say that New Zealand’s international reputation is being sacrificed for commercial interest.’’
In a statement the Ministry for Foreign Affairs claimed to be a strong supporter of high levels of environmental protection ‘‘in all areas of international oceans and fisheries policy’’.