The southern Indian Ocean needs real protection, not voluntary half measures

Date: July 5, 2006

Download this press release (pdf) The proposal by New Zealand high seas fishing company Sealord, together with three other fishing companies, to voluntarily refrain from deep-sea fishing in limited areas of the international waters of the Indian Ocean, falls woefully short of the action needed to protect deep-sea corals, seamounts and other unique marine ecosystems in the region.

The proposal occurs at a time when international momentum towards a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling is growing ahead of negotiations on this issue at the UN General Assembly in October and November. Political Advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Matthew Gianni said, “Industry is recognizing that the time will soon come when long overdue multilateral regulations will be imposed as required by international law. This half measure looks like a nod to self-regulation designed to forestall more comprehensive and legally binding regulations”.

Under international maritime law, States and not industry are responsible for the management of fisheries on the high seas. That the vacuum exists to enable such limited self-regulation to occur points to the failure of New Zealand and other countries concerned to effectively regulate their high seas fleets. For almost a decade Sealord and the other companies involved in this initiative have engaged in unregulated (IUU) deep-sea bottom fishing on the high seas targeting seamounts and other sensitive deep-sea ecosystems It is also unclear how much, if any protection, the proposal will afford. Without an independent scientific assessment the industry plan may simply consist of closing areas which have already been fished out or where there is little fish of value in the first place. More importantly, the proposal does not address the lack of regulation and the destructive impact of deep-sea bottom trawl fishing in the remainder of the ocean.

Populations of orange roughy targeted by these companies’ fleets over the past five years or more have already collapsed in many areas in the region and scientists have expressed clear concern over the damage that is likely to have occurred to deep-sea corals and other unique and vulnerable species in the process. Matthew Gianni, “While this move is encouraging for its suggestion that the fishing industry acknowledges the threat posed by bottom trawling, it is of limited practical value, omitting many if not most of the high seas areas likely to be vulnerable to bottom trawl fishing. If anything, the industry proposal points to the glaring failure of States to effectively exercise control over their high seas bottom trawl fleets to prevent over fishing and damage to the marine environment. ” Nothing short of a total closure of the high seas of the South Indian Ocean to deep-water bottom trawl fishing until a comprehensive and independent scientific assessment of the biodiversity of the region is carried out and effective regulations are put in place, will protect deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas of the Indian Ocean.

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