In a recent press release, New Zealand’s Seafood Industry Council seeks to draw attention from the growing support for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling by downplaying and distorting the wealth of existing scientific evidence that demonstrates the destructive nature of high seas bottom trawling – including data from New Zealand’s own National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition welcomes the Seafood Industry Council’s acknowledgement that “there can be little doubt that trawling has an effect on the benthic environment”. (1)
However, the Council goes on to claim, that “bottom trawling does not have adverse environmental effects or threaten the sustainability of marine resources”. It says that New Zealand “fishers are utilising only a fraction of the marine area to sustainably and repetitively harvest a marine resource” and that “the actual footprint of trawling is negligible. “These claims are entirely unsupportable. I wish they’d get their facts straight. It’s like comparing apples with oranges”, said Dr Steve O’Shea, one of New Zealand’s leading marine biologists. Dr. Alex Rogers, Prinicipal Investigator in Biodiversity Research at the British Antarctic Survey, agrees. The Council’s data cited in support of their arguments do not match available data on deep sea fisheries. For example, data on target fish species in New Zealand and from NIWA indicate that the fishing effort is highly intense on seamounts (underwater mountains around which deep sea fish concentrate and on which deep sea habitats such as corals flourish). “Such an intense level of exploitation leads to an almost complete removal of benthic attached organisms – like corals which may be thousands of years old,” says Dr. Rogers. “Many of the New Zealand and Australian deep-sea fisheries have been characterised by extremely high bycatches of coral in early stages of the fishery. This decreases as the fishery continues and as the seabed habitat is removed.” And the fact remains that deep sea fishes concentrate around seamounts, within canyons or other areas where food supplies are abundant. These habitats represent a tiny fraction of the deep-sea area in total, but contribute to a large degree to deep-sea fisheries resources. As a result, fishing effort is highly focused in a small area explaining why major adverse affects occur to the rich seafloor communities such as corals which also concentrate in these same areas for much the same reason as the fish. In a recent interview with New Zealand television (2), Dr. O’Shea said bottom trawling is the same as “trying to herd cows up with a net and dragging a net through a farm. You catch a few cows. You catch the farmers wife. You catch a cattle trough. All this other stuff is incidental bycatch, filth, bottom filth they refer to it. We just don’t do that on land. Why are we doing it in the oceans?” The New Zealand bottom trawl fishing industry is clearly divided and defensive after a recent expedition by Greenpeace to the Tasman Sea revealed yet more first-hand evidence of the destruction caused by bottom trawl nets scraping the sea floor. Crew members from the New Zealand bottom trawler Waipori were filmed in international waters pulling up ancient tree-sized corals, estimated to be hundreds of years old, that were then nonchalantly thrown overboard. The Maritime Union of New Zealand came out in support of Greenpeace’s actions (3) but the Seafood Industry Council disagrees and is siding with Amaltal (4), whose director, Andrew Talley, stated earlier that claims regarding the damage caused by bottom trawling and its unsustainability is “unsubstantiated claptrap”. “These claims regarding the sustainability of deep sea bottom trawling are no more than the last desperate cries of a couple of stubborn Captains who refuse to admit that their boats are sinking, even though they’re full of holes and the water’s rising fast,” said Matthew Gianni, political advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “The deep sea bottom trawl industry is trying to divert attention from the real issue – that it has and is using technology that is rapidly destroying the incredible diversity of deep sea life before we have had time to even discover the wealth and treasures of the deep,” Gianni said. “A moratorium on high seas bottom trawling is the only way to protect the heritage of the deep for the benefit of future generations, while effective conservation and management regimes are put in place.”
Notes: (1) “When utilising any resource there will be some effect – “effects” are inevitable with an extractive use, sustainable or otherwise. Every time a fish is removed, a rock is turned or a piece of coral damaged there is a clear effect on that particular section of aquatic life. No doubt.” Seafood Industry Council press release, 24 June 2005
(2) Biologist adds voice to trawling fears, 24 June 2005 (3) Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson said it has become obvious that overfishing and bad practices such as bottom trawling are wrecking the environment, and would also destroy the industry that depends on the environment. (4) Amaltal is the company that owns the Ocean Reward, the other New Zealand bottom trawler recently documented by Greenpeace in the Tasman Sea.