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EU protects deep sea life from bottom trawling, as new science shows up NZ industry proposal

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

The European Union has agreed new measures to protect seamounts from bottom trawling, showing up the New Zealand government’s inaction on the issue, environment groups said today.

Meanwhile, a NIWA study released this week has revealed that there are 1,996 seamounts and features in New Zealand waters. A proposal is being pushed by industry that only recognises 7% of these seamounts, and would leave all the areas they currently trawl unprotected.

The EU had already banned bottom trawling altogether in waters deeper than 800m, and has now closed a further 16,000 square kilometres of the deep sea to bottom trawling in the Northeast Atlantic. While this is not yet full protection, it’s a far stronger protection regime than what the New Zealand government has undertaken.

“New Zealanders are keen to see our oceans better protected, but the government is dragging its heels. More than 80,000 people have now signed a petition calling for bottom trawling to be banned on all seamounts and features, and polling shows 79% support this,” said Karli Thomas of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “Earlier this year the government set up a forum to consider increased protection of the seabed and the EU’s new protections show us what’s possible when we heed the science - not just cobble together bits of the ocean that the industry doesn’t want to trawl” said Thomas.

The closures in four EU countries in the exclusive economic zones of Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal. These add an additional 87 areas where cold water coral reefs, aggregations of deep-sea sponges, sea pens and other deepwater habitats are known or likely to occur between 400 and 800 metres depth.

New science shows nearly 2000 seamounts and features in NZ waters

Meanwhile, NIWA scientists have found that our waters contain an astounding 1996 seamounts and features - set out in a new study released this week. These provide habitat for slow-growing species like corals and sponges that, without protection, can be reduced to rubble by weighted bottom trawling nets.

“These new numbers show up Sealord’s “alternative facts” - the proposal it is touting only covers a tiny percentage of the seamounts and features in New Zealand waters. The industry’s campaign is designed to get the government to fall for a proposal that gives the appearance of protection, but in reality it’s pure greenwash,” said Greenpeace Aotearoa Oceans Campaigner, Ellie Hooper.
“If it went ahead, the Sealord proposal would allow its vessels to keep trawling everywhere they’re trawling now, plus some seamounts that haven’t been trawled for over a decade - where corals may be just beginning to recover.”

“As we watch the EU limit bottom trawling in its waters, here in Aotearoa, the fishing industry is pushing a “destruction as usual” proposal that would see trawling continue to wipe out deep sea life,” said Scott MacIndoe of recreational fisheries group LegaSea. “We call on Fisheries Minister David Parker to ignore the spin by the fishing industry, and move to protect our precious ocean.”

“We have known for years that bottom trawling causes destruction of seafloor ecosystems that takes decades or centuries to recover from. It’s time to protect seamounts and the vulnerable deep sea life they support, and ban bottom trawling,” said Natalie Jessup of the Endangered Species Foundation.

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