Marine conservationists warn incoming NZ trawlers – leave our seamounts alone

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has criticised the federal government for allowing New Zealand factory trawlers to fish for orange roughy around Tasmanian waters because of the disastrous damage they cause to deep sea coral reefs.

Trawlers, belonging to large New Zealand industrial fishing companies like Talleys and allowed by the federal government to fish under Australian laws, recently crossed the Tasman and are already fishing for orange roughy around the crests of underwater mountains.

Recent science, published since last winter’s orange roughy fishing season and underpinned by a major CSIRO research voyage in 2018[1], has shown this type of fishing is likely the most destructive fishery still allowed to operate in Australia. This research showed that impacts of the fishery on deep sea coral reefs last for decades and possibly even centuries[2] as they target the highly vulnerable orange roughy which itself can live for over 200 years.

Deepwater trawlers catch orange roughy as they aggregate to breed over the crests of underwater mountains, or seamounts. These mountaintops should be host to ancient, highly biodiverse and extraordinarily vulnerable coral reefs. Extensive underwater video surveys have shown these reefs have been destroyed on almost every seamount that has been fished for orange roughy.

More research, also published since the last orange roughy fishing season, shows a few patches of intact coral reef remain on seamounts that were opened up for fishing in 2015[3]. The Australian government has taken no action based on this science to protect our deep sea coral reefs, and the fishery looks set to operate this season as if these damning findings did not exist.

Adrian Meder, AMCS’s sustainable seafood manager, said: “It’s 2021, and our government thinks Australians want to allow a fishery that we know destroys coral reefs to operate in Australia. Not only that, we’re going to invite vessels from the scandal-plagued New Zealand deep sea trawler fleet to do it for us, allowing them to do all the damage and take away most of the profits.”

In recent years the New Zealand deepwater trawl fleet has been caught dumping thousands of tons of unwanted catch[4], had multiple vessels seized for fishing illegally in protected areas[5], and have breached international regulations, destroying coral reefs on the high seas between New Zealand and Australia[6].

“Earlier this year, this fishery failed even the undemanding Marine Stewardship Council’s test of sustainability, failing to secure their eco-certification. That means they won’t even be able to sell any fish they catch for the premium that certification attracts. They’ll be hoovering up almost two thousand tons of our orange roughy and selling most of it offshore for bottom dollar.

“We don’t want these habitat-wrecking boats in our waters. They should only ever return once the science is respected and every bit of still-intact coral reef is fully protected from all fishing in marine reserves, and our orange roughy fish stocks are fully recovered from historical overfishing.”

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