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Bottom trawling for abundant fish species

New Zealand’s deep seas are abundant in fish that provide people with healthy nutrition. Fish like hoki live near the seabed, so we fish for them there by bottom trawling. It is the most common commercial fishing method in New Zealand.

What is bottom trawling?

Bottom trawling is a practical and efficient fishing method where a net is towed on very small areas of seabed, where large amounts of target fish species live.

More than 50 percent of Sealord’s seafood harvest is caught by bottom trawling. Our hoki, jack mackerel, southern blue whiting, squid and ling harvest represents 40 percent of all fish caught in New Zealand’s seas.

We use technology to precisely find fishing grounds, avoid rocks and to monitor and adjust each trawl. This improves fuel efficiency and how we use our vessels and crew, which helps to lighten our trawling footprint.

Trawling is very limited and highly regulated

Wild fisheries like ours have one of the lowest environmental impacts of any food production, much lower that other animal protein production such as land-based farming[1].

Like any type of food production, bottom trawling has an impact. But unlike other food production, the area we trawl is very limited.

New Zealand has one of the largest ocean territories (also called our exclusive economic zone, or EEZ) in the world.  Less than three percent of the seabed in our territory was trawled in 2019, which is the most recent year independent scientists made this calculation.

Fishers return to the same grounds and use fewer trawls to catch the same amount each year. To replace the amount of food our fisheries provide would require an extra 1.4 million football fields or an area the size of Fiordland National Park of land cleared for agriculture.

It is important to measure, understand and manage the effects of any type of food production. Using technology such as satellite global positioning systems, our trawling activities are monitored and reported by Fisheries New Zealand. This informs better fisheries management.

Conserving seamount biodiversity

Some bottom trawling occurs on the slopes of seamounts (underwater hills of 1,000m or higher). The total area trawled on the slopes is small and fishers return to the same spot each year, leaving most of the seamount untouched.

The number of seamounts we trawl is also very limited. Of the 142 known seamounts in our ocean territory only 15 have been trawled once or more between 1989 and 2019. In total, 127 (or 50% of) seamounts are protected from trawling, however to increase conservation efforts, Sealord is proposing to formally close 89% of seamounts to bottom trawling.

Find more information about our proposal here:

Webinar recording

Seamount bottom trawling presentation

Sealord white paper

[1] Hilborn: The environmental cost of animal source foods, 2018


Climate Change

Climate change is starting to impact all businesses and Sealord is committed to playing our part in addressing some of the causes and also adapting our business as appropriate. To this end, we recognise that climate change response can be grouped into two broad areas:

  • Mitigation (e.g. measuring, setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint through changing our operational approach)
  • Adaptation (understanding and responding to climate risk – e.g. developing plans to adapt to extreme weather and rising sea temperatures)

Sealord is committed to disclosing our progress in the reduction of Sealord’s carbon footprint and is a member of Aotearoa Circle and Nelson Businesses for Climate Action.

Carbon footprint

In 2020, as part of the sustainability policy, Sealord undertook to measure our carbon footprint. This is to better understand our impact on the environment and to develop programs to reduce this over time in line with our commitment to address Climate Change. 

In the "baseline" year ending September 30, 2019, Sealord NZ's carbon footprint was 113,973 tonnes CO2e (Scope 1 94,016t CO2e, scope 2 1,137t CO2e, Scope 3 18,819 tCO2e). Just over 79% of Sealord NZ's carbon footprint is driven by vessel fuel.  In addition Sealord has 5,933 of Scope 2 and 3 emissions in our Australian operations with a total Group carbon footprint of 120,090t CO2e.

Several initiatives are now in place to reduce Sealord’s carbon footprint over time in line with science-based targets aligned with the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Our focus is to work on reducing our own Scope 1 and 2 emissions within NZ while working with our suppliers to reduce Scope 3 emissions (freight represents 11% of total emissions and 68% of Scope 3) 

In the year ending September 30, 2021, Sealord NZ achieved a reduction of 4.7% of Scope 1 and 2 emissions to 86,587 tCO2e. Out total footprint was 102,757t CO2e. Since our baseline year Sealord have removed just over 10,000t CO2e from our New Zealand operations in line with the international science based targets.

Sealord's total group emissions in 2021 were 115,149t CO2e, a reduction of 4.2%.

Plastics and waste

It is clear that plastics are having an environmental impact on both land and in water.

Sealord is committed to reducing plastic from the way the ingredients we buy are packaged, to the equipment we use in our operations, through to how we package products to our customers and consumers. Where possible, we will remove plastics or move to more compostable formats. 

In 2021, Sealord removed all plastic wrapping from our canned tuna ranges. This removed a total of 20,000 kilograms of plastic packaging from NZ waste streams. We also removed all use of polystyrene boxes from our supply chain.

In 2022, we are removing all the plastic spoons from our tuna snack ranges. This means over 1 million plastic spoons won't be sent to landfill.

Finally, Sealord has joined plastic recycling organisations to ensure any of the plastics that used are clearly identified as being recyclable.

Within New Zealand this does rely on appropriate recycling streams being available in local councils, however we will support as appropriate any new waste streams that are initiated. 

An area of equal focus is to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfill from our processing sites and our offices. We are working with our waste management partners to assess and separate waste going off our sites to landfill. 

Water Use and Water Quality

Within our operations area, Sealord uses water as part of our processing operations – for example when filleting fish, daily clean down processes. We recognise that water is a valuable resource that must not be wasted.

Sealord will comply with all relevant regulation with regards to use of, and discharging of, water. We will also measure water usage to minimise our use in operations. We are looking to develop water recycling programs where appropriate on all Sealord sites.

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