This week, the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture voted on the European Commission’s proposal to close vulnerable areas to fishing gears which touch the seabed with the majority of EU member states adopted the implementing Act. EU member States had committed to do so in 2016, when adopting the Deep Sea Fisheries Regulation.
The DSCCwarmly welcomes this vote and applauds the Commission for steering this process to successful conclusion.
We encourage the Commissioner Sinkevicius and DG Mare to ensure that the implementing act as adopted becomes law without any further delays. Deep sea vulnerable marine ecosystems can not wait any longer for sound protection.
New government information about the deepwater fish orange roughy shows the fish may not reach full maturity until the age of 80, throwing the entire management of the fishery into doubt.
Orange roughy, a long-lived deepwater fish, grow and mature slowly, possibly too slowly to recover from the bottom trawl fishing industry that often specifically targets them when they come together to spawn around seamounts and features. They have recently been found to live to over 230 years old (which is why the industry calls these oldest fish “Napoleons”).
The new information, in the Ministry of Primary Industry’s recently released “2022 Plenary report”, suggests that these fish don’t reach full spawning maturity until 80 – instead of the previously-assumed spawning age of 30.
This flawed assumption that most orange roughy spawn regularly from the age of 30 means that until now, the spawning stock size has been overestimated across the fishery. This year’s studies only looked in detail at the East Coast North Island population, concluding that the spawning population is only about half the size previously estimated. But it’s not just this area that is affected – future assessments of other fishing grounds are likely to find the same errors and over-estimations of orange roughy stocks.
“This new information means that almost all the adult orange roughy spawning today were alive before the bottom trawl fishery even started targeting them in the early 1980’s. In fact, most of the fish caught since this fishery began were already swimming around in Aotearoa waters before the fishery itself existed.”
Karli Thomas, campaign coordinator with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
The Plenary report also finds that spawning events are no longer happening at some of the major orange roughy spawning grounds, including “Strawberry Mountain” in the Ritchie Bank area off the East Coast North Island. This seamount was one where orange roughy gathered together in winter to spawn, but has been heavily targeted by bottom trawlers during the spawning season. No such spawning event has been detected in recent years, despite repeated surveys.
“There are also warning signs that orange roughy is in trouble in other areas. One of the main areas trawled near the Chatham Rise, Rekohu, has seen a huge drop in the catch rate from 25 tonnes per tow a decade ago to just over two tonnes per tow last season. This new information is quite shocking, and really throws the future of this fishery into doubt,” said Barry Weeber, of the Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO).
“The more we learn about orange roughy and the other species of the deep sea, the more it’s apparent how vulnerable they are to the effects of bottom trawling.”
“If these fish are living to 200 and only reach maturity at 80, it’s pretty obvious why breeding groups of orange roughy have disappeared. It’s not magic, they’ve been bottom trawled into oblivion.”
“Sustainable” certification thrown into doubt
The information also brings into question the “sustainable” certification the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) bestows on some of the New Zealand orange roughy stocks, a certification that is currently being assessed for renewal. The New Zealand orange roughy industry relies heavily on this “sustainability” rating as an important marketing tool.
“Environmental groups have long-held concerns that the orange roughy fishery is far from sustainable. This new information should close the case, and the MSC cannot re-issue the certification that expired earlier this month. It must listen to scientists, instead of just following the wishes of the bottom trawl fishing industry that wants to keep trading off a product endorsement this fishery does not deserve.”
Karli Thomas, campaign coordinator with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
As the UN Ocean Conference gets underway and global attention turns towards the ocean, political resistance to the emerging deep-sea mining industry gains traction as Palau, Samoa, Fiji, Guam and 57 Parliamentarians all call for a halt to the destructive industry.
Yesterday the President of Palau, Surangel Whipps, Jr. joined the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and WWF at an official conference side event in Lisbon, calling on behalf of his government for an immediate moratorium on deep-sea mining. As the leader of the global call, the President launched the new Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium. Oceanographer and marine biologist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and Debbie Ngawera-Packer, Co-leader Te Pāti Māori, Member of Parliament, Aotearoa/New Zealand joined the President of Palau at the event to explore the wonders of the deep and the critical action needed to protect in the face of destructive mining.
Today the European Commission published the EU agenda on International Ocean Governance, announcing its intention to “prohibit deep-sea mining until scientific gaps are properly filled, no harmful effects arise from mining and the marine environment is effectively protected”.
During the meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea from 13-17 June at UN headquarters in New York, the government of Chile called for a 15 year moratorium on adopting regulations that would open the deep-sea in the international areas of the oceans to large-scale deep-sea mining.
The international Seabed Authority (ISA) is currently engaged in an accelerated process of negotiating regulations to allow deep-sea mining with a view to finalizing and adopted the regulations by July 2023. Chile has called on the 167 countries that are members of the ISA to agree to extend this ‘deadline’ to adopt regulations for another 15 years.
In a written submission to the meeting at the United Nations, Chile urged “That States Parties agree to extend the deadline for the elaboration of such rules, regulations and procedures [for allowing deep-sea mining], contained in subparagraph b of the aforementioned paragraph for a period of 15 years, in order to obtain more evidence and scientific certainty to ensure the protection of the marine environment.”
The submission highlighted the damage that deep-sea mining could cause if allowed to go ahead and the lack of sufficient scientific information to effectively monitor and prevent damage from deep-sea mining. It also pointed out that the global pandemic has prevented a thorough discussion on whether deep-sea mining should be allowed and, if so, under what circumstances.
The Deep Sea Conservation welcomes Chile’s call for a moratorium for the reasons outlined in the submission and is also calling for a review and reform of the ISA, in particular its decision-making structure, to better reflect the obligation in the UN Law of the Sea that the ISA operation “for the benefit of” and “on behalf of” humankind as a whole.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) and the Deep Sea Mining Campaign (DSMC) are calling on the International Seabed Authority (ISA) not to follow prospective deep-sea miners, The Metals Company (TMC), into the abyss as the company’s shares plummet towards $1 and momentum for a halt to the industry builds. An earlier seabed mining company, Nautilus, previously went into liquidation.
The Cooperative Bank has become the 7th international bank to single out deep-sea mining in its exclusion list, on the grounds that it would “contribute to global climate change” and “the destruction of ecosystems”.
The Government of Palau will be officially launching the Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal at an official side event, co-hosted by the Government of Palau, the DSCC and WWF.
The President of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr., will be joined by distinguished guests including Dr. Sylvia Earle, “Her Deepness” and Debbie Ngawera-Packer, Co-leader Te Pāti Māori, Member of Parliament, Aotearoa to discuss the wonders and importance of the deep ocean and take concrete action to defend it from the imminent threat of destructive mining.
This unique event seeks to strengthen support for a halt to deep-sea mining and safeguard the health of of our planet’s blue heart for future generations.