Northern Nations Block South Pacific Fish Conservation

HOBART, Australia, November 13, 2006 (ENS) - Northern Hemisphere fishing nations have obstructed an effort to regulate deep sea fishing and bottom trawling over a vast area of the South Pacific.

The European Union, Russia, and South Korea sank a bottom trawling protection plan at a meeting to establish the South Pacific regional fisheries management organization in Hobart last week.

"New Zealand is very pleased with the progress that's been made towards establishing a regional fisheries management organization for non-highly migratory fish stocks in the South Pacific," said New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton.


Jim Anderton is New Zealand's Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry, and Minister Responsible for the Public Trust. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"But we're deeply disappointed that protection measures for fragile ecosystems outside our EEZ have been blocked by the European Union, South Korea, and Russia," he said.

The talks in Hobart were a continuation of negotiations that began in Wellington in February. They aim to develop a regional fisheries agreement to manage non-highly migratory fish stocks on the high seas from the Indian Ocean to South America and from the Antarctic to an as yet undecided northern boundary.

The talks aimed also to set up interim measures to manage the effects of bottom trawling in these areas.

But the EU, Russia and South Korea repeatedly blocked proposals supported by Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Pacific Island States and the United States which were intended to protect deep sea life from bottom trawling.

"I'm particularly disappointed that the European community refused to limit their current fishing effort in the region. This went against the precautionary, ecosystem-based approach that South Pacific and South American states were asking for," Anderton said.

The Chilean government said that it is limiting its own national fishing effort out of concern for the sustainability of deep ocean mackerel stocks, which are of great economic significance to the coastal communities of Latin America.

But a group led by the European Community wanted the freedom to rapidly expand its catch levels of mackerel.

"These Northern Hemisphere countries have a poor track record of managing their own fisheries, and seem set on continuing this in South Pacific waters," said Anderton.


A stern trawler like this one from France is currently unregulated across a vast stretch of the South Pacific Ocean. (Photo courtesy FAO)
"I know that Pacific Island states feel particularly aggrieved about the cavalier attitude the European community and other Northern Hemisphere fishing nations have shown towards fisheries management and sustainability in the South Pacific," he said.

William Naviti, from Vanuatu's fisheries ministry, told ABC News he wants the draft regional agreement implemented as soon as possible.

"I know some parties might have reservations on this deep-sea dredging, but I think where the deal will be struck will probably be restricting this activity rather than banning it altogether," Naviti said.

The Hobart meeting comes two weeks after a declaration issued by the Pacific Islands Forum nations called on members of the Pacific Islands Forum to advocate for an interim prohibition on bottom trawling until international conservation measures are in place.

"It is clear that some governments seem bent on delaying any decision to cap levels of fishing so that they have the opportunity to rapidly expand their fishery exploitation, to the point that by the time we get any precautionary management measures in place, commercial fish stocks will have collapsed," said Alistair Graham from WWF International.

"We are concerned to see these historical patterns of fisheries management failure being played out yet again in the South Pacific," Graham said.

WWF-Australia spokesperson Lorraine Hitch said, "Eight months ago at the first session in Wellington, these same governments agreed to adopt voluntary interim arrangements for the South Pacific Ocean at this meeting. Yet now it seems that even exercising restraint in their fishing activities as an interim step is unacceptable to governments such as the European Community despite their obligations under international law."

"Unless we see a major change in attitude and a significant show of good faith by all participants at the third negotiating session in Chile early next year," Hitch said, "the future of this new proposed South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation already appears bleak."

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, DSCC, representing more than 60 conservation organizations from around the world, is calling for urgent action to address bottom trawling in deep sea fisheries, a practice scientists say is destroying some of the world’s rarest and most sensitive ocean habitats.

DSCC spokesperson Duncan Currie said, "The meeting should have decided to protect the irreplaceable ecosystems of the deep sea bed from the relentless march of bottom trawlers."

"Scientists in the region have over the past few years discovered a wealth of new and exotic species inhabiting the deep seas in the South Pacific region" said Currie. "At the same time the scientific community has expressed real concern over the damage to deep sea life from bottom trawl fishing, including the risk of species extinctions."


Orange roughy on the processing line of a factory bottom trawler. (Photo by Duncan courtesy Greenpeace Australia Pacific)
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Australia announced that the orange roughy fish species will be added to the threatened species list under Australian environment law - the first commercially harvested fish to be listed.

Orange roughy are found in southeastern and southwestern Australia, the Great Australian Bight and around Tasmania, and have been one of the primary species caught in Australia’s southeast fisheries since the late 1980s.

Orange roughy can live to well over 100 years, and reach maturity at between 20 and 30 years of age. Unlike many fish species, its reproduction rate is low.

Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said, "Scientific advice to me indicated that orange roughy is under considerable pressure and protection under environment law is needed if the species is to have any chance of long-term survival."

Orange roughy will be listed as conservation dependent, and will be managed subject to a conservation program that will protect orange roughy from overfishing, in part by prohibiting targeted fishing in fishing zones.

Orange roughy in New Zealand waters is also under fishing pressure. Reductions in commercial catch limits for orange roughy took effect October 1.

The United Nations General Assembly is due to decide on actions needed to protect vanishing deep sea ecosystems later this month.