fishing, Sealord, environment

Sealord announces 'breakthrough' plan for fishing seamounts

Photography by: Getty Images


Nelson-based fishing company Sealord is proposing that 89% of known seamounts in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone be placed into conservation.

The plan, which it has named "Seamounts Count", will mean at least 127 of the 142 known seamounts will be protected within a conservation envelope.

Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin says the proposal is a breakthrough in response to a small but concerted campaign by activists to ban fishing on the bountiful pinnacles.

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"It is possible to achieve a balance; to conserve the marine environment and continue fishing a very small number of seamounts," he says.

"This breakthrough proposal strikes a balance heavily in favour of conserving seamounts, which support a dazzling array of seafloor marine life."

Seamounts are abundant volcanic features that rise at least 1000m high off the seafloor. Collectively, they form the largest wildlife habitat on earth, covering more of the earth’s surface than rainforests, deserts, or tundra.

Fish congregate on the slopes of seamounts, as do corals and crustaceans, to eat the nutrients that are carried upwards from the depths of the oceans toward the warm surface.

Paulin says 11% of the seamounts need to be fished to support food, jobs and export earnings for New Zealanders.

"A ban on seamount fishing is unnecessary and irresponsible. It is about starvation not sustainability, and there will be no significant ecosystem improvement, and no growth in fish numbers," he says.

"New Zealand’s fishing quota system limits fish harvest to numbers that don’t overwhelm stocks, and this plan means seamount biodiversity will never be threatened - at least 89%, or 127 seamounts - will remain pristine and untouched in perpetuity."

The seabed of New Zealand’s trawled seamounts was damaged by past fishing activity, but fish still congregate there. Deepwater fishers continue to trawl along historic tracks of these 15 (or 11%) seamounts for quota. That has left at least 127 seamounts untouched - and now potentially untouched for the future.

"Protecting the marine environment in which we operate is hugely important to Sealord," Paulin says.

"Seamounts are special deep-sea features that support unique marine life - it’s vital we do our bit to conserve them while striking a balance that still allows a sustainable, healthy food source to feed the world."

NIWA has recorded 142 seamounts in New Zealand’s EEZ - and is carrying out further research on underwater geographical features due to be released in May.

Seamounts in New Zealand’s EEZ are already well protected from bottom trawling through Benthic Protection Areas and Seamount Closure Areas. 71 of New Zealand’s 142 seamounts are closed to trawling by BPAs and SCAs. Of the remaining 71 seamounts, 56 have never been trawled.

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