Sealord said today that its ‘Seamounts Count’ proposal to protect seamount marine life could become a twin policy of the world-leading 35-year-old Fish Quota Management System.
The Quota Management System (QMS) uses fish biology, abundance, and distribution research to estimate how many fish stocks can be caught while still keeping the population healthy. It manages the nation’s commercial wild fish catch of 130 different species, which feeds the population and contributes $5.2 billion to New Zealand’s economy each year.
Doug Paulin, CEO of the Nelson-based fishing company, said a policy was needed to better protect life on the seabed, that worked on the same sustainability basis as the QMS.
“Sustainability is about living in balance with nature. We must ensure that our effect on seabed life while we trawl is as sustainable as the fish stock we are trawling for.
“This sustainable seabed policy would be a natural twin for the sustainable fishing quota system,” he said. “It could become a complementary tool to the QMS, aligned with our ongoing commitment to protect marine eco-systems as part of good fisheries management.”
While fished species are protected from over-fishing, seafloor life affected by trawl nets is only partly protected. Most corals are protected from deliberate damage under the Wildlife Act 1953. Coral on about half the seamounts is protected from accidental damage because they are in Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs) and Seamount Closure Areas (SCAs), which cannot be trawled. Of the remaining 71 seamounts, 56 have never been trawled.
Paulin said that although seamount research was not yet as thorough as QMS research, lifting the protected number of seamounts from 50% to 89% was likely to dramatically improve sustainability.
“Our proposal is to only allow fishing at 11% of seamounts, and never to increase that, even if in time technology and research found that we could.
“That’s because we have calculated that we can catch what we need of our current sustainably set quota on only 11% of the total seamounts in the EEZ,” Paulin said.
Paulin said very little further damage was done to coral by fishing over seamounts where long-established trawling tracks meant coral would not return until the trawling stopped.