Greenpeace has welcomed Labour’s support for banning bottom trawling on seamounts but warns the ‘devil is in the detail’, reminding political leaders that meaningful ocean protection means urgently banning the method from where it does the most harm.
In a pre-election debate last week, the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, Rachel Brooking, said Labour would ban trawling on areas that had never been trawled and would phase it out on trawled seamounts after that.
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ellie Hooper says the fact bottom trawling bans are being pledged is a good step in the right direction but warns against a repeat of past mistakes, where governments bowed to commercial fishing industry pressure.
“If you want to protect the ocean – you have to protect the most vulnerable areas from the most pressing threats. In the case of bottom trawling – what is most vulnerable are seamounts that are within the fishable depth, and the pressing threat is the trawling that is happening on them.
“Right now, there are hundreds of seamounts – home to vulnerable communities of rare corals and sponges – that are open to bottom trawling, and are within the depths that bottom trawlers can reach. These areas support a myriad of ocean life and must be prioritised for protection urgently.”
“Unfortunately, the commercial fishing industry has put together a proposal for biodiverse seamounts that are within fishable depths to remain open for bottom trawlers to trash, while suggesting closing areas that are already inaccessible to trawling.
“To put it bluntly – the industry wants to protect areas they know they can’t use while dressing it up as a sacrifice. It’s greenwashing at its worst.”
A recent study showed that the commercial fishing fleet reported pulling up over 200 tonnes of coral and bryozoans over a 13 year period – and 99% of that was from bottom trawling. Under industry proposals, this destruction would continue.
“The depths that corals grow at overlaps with the depths bottom trawlers operate at. So if we’re talking about protecting deep sea biodiversity – rare, protected corals and all the life they support – closing seamounts that are within fishable depths is imperative.”
Hooper warns against a repeat of the Benthic Protection Areas (2007) debacle, where the commercial fishing industry picked areas to be closed to bottom trawling – the vast majority of which were too deep to trawl, and therefore also too deep for most corals to grow at.
As a result, the BPAs have been criticised for sounding good on paper but not achieving meaningful ocean protection. A report from NIWA to the Convention on Biological Diversityshows that the BPAs would have been vastly more beneficial in protecting biodiversity if they had been based on ecological value, not what the fishing industry simply didn’t have a use for.
“Almost 80% of people polled support closing all seamounts and features to bottom trawling. People have petitioned, postcarded, and taken action against bottom trawlers to call for this.
“This year the government has a chance to protect the deep sea properly. They must resist the greenwashing efforts of the commercial fishing industry, and protect what’s ecologically important – not just where the fishing industry can’t fish.
“Nobody wants to see a dead and empty ocean. To protect the ocean for the future we need to ban bottom trawling from where it does the most harm, so marine life can recover and flourish.”
At the same debate where Labour pledged to phase out bottom trawling on seamounts, The Green Party restated their commitment to banning bottom trawling on seamounts within the first 100 days of taking office, before implementing a total ban.
Te Pāti Māori also supported a ban while National would not commit, and NZ First said they also wouldn’t support restrictions. ACT was not represented at the debate which was held by WWF in Auckland.