Bottom trawling releases more carbon than air travel, groups urge Government action

Date: March 18, 2021

New science released overnight shows bottom trawling releases more carbon dioxide than aviation, coinciding with a renewed call from environmental groups for the Government to tackle the impacts of New Zealand’s bottom trawling industry. 

As this news came to light, a coalition of environment, conservation and recreational fisheries organisations have written to Fisheries Minister David Parker to use the powers he has under the Fisheries Act to stop trawl fleets from trashing deep sea life, warning that continued inaction is incompatible with New Zealand’s international obligations to protect biodiversity and prevent runaway climate change.

The letter, from eight organisations: Forest & Bird, ECO, Greenpeace, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, LegaSea, NZ Sport Fishing, Our Seas Our Future and WWF-New Zealand, warns of the terrible destruction being wrought on vulnerable seabed ecosystems by our bottom trawling fleet.

Bottom trawling is a highly destructive fishing activity that drags heavy nets across the seafloor destroying deep sea corals and other marine life. In doing so, it not only destroys biodiversity, but also releases carbon stored in the seabed. 

Jessica Desmond, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Aotearoa said bottom trawling is a double whammy for the ocean, destroying biodiversity while simultaneously disturbing the world’s largest carbon sink.

“For two decades, environmentalists have been urging the Government to protect ocean wildlife from the habitat destroying practice of bottom trawling. This new science shows that there’s another side to that coin – releasing a gigaton of carbon that has been stored away in the ocean.”.

Kevin Hague, CEO of Forest & Bird, said: 

“In the last 12 months alone, 29 species of coral have been trawled up in nets in New Zealand waters. Scientific studies show that deep sea corals can take up to 30 years to even begin to recover from the damage.” 

Credit: NOAA

“Entire protected coral habitats are allowed to be destroyed because it’s officially considered unintended. There is nothing unintended about rolling huge heavy nets across the seabed smashing everything in their way,” the groups point out in the letter

The groups are calling on the Government to: 

  • Immediately protect seamounts and similar features
  • Immediately freeze the current bottom trawling footprint based on a 2006 baseline
  • Require fishers to shift five nautical miles from where they’re fishing  if they start dragging up corals 
  • Require all trawl fishing gear to be off the seafloor within seven years 


Jessica Desmond, Greenpeace Aotearoa. Phone: 021 065 1914
Kevin Hague, CEO of Forest & Bird. Phone Megan Hubscher: 022 658 1166 

Further quotes from signatories

Karli Thomas, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (NZ) (Ph 021 905 582)
“New Zealand trawlers have been the only vessels dragging their nets over South Pacific seamounts in recent years, and despite more than one company breaching the  protection regulations, our government still tried to double the amount they can catch in some areas. Internationally, New Zealand is dragging the chain. Rather than going in to bat for an industry that’s using destructive gear on delicate ecosystems our government should be protecting those ecosystems.”

Cath Wallace, Environment and Conservation Organisations (Ph 021 891 994)
“Bottom trawling is like bulldozing a forest to catch the birds and will cause the ecosystem decades and centuries to recover.  We wouldn’t allow it on land.  This is a major opportunity to stop that.” 

Scott McIndoe LegaSea (Ph: 021 622 463)
“This is a call on Governments worldwide to do their job and show some leadership. Industry has proven time and time again their inability to constrain themselves. They will trawl the precious benthic environment into oblivion if we don’t act decisively.”

Noel Jhinku, Policy Coordinator. Our Seas Our Future (Ph 0212 638 456) 
“We want to see more proactive and agile Government leadership driving the protection of our marine environments. Our oceans deserve better protection than the status quo.”  

Livia Esterhazy, CEO, WWF-New Zealand  (Ph Caroline Bruner 021 550 710) 
“Bottom trawling is indiscriminate in its destruction. It wrecks everything in its path. Deep Sea Corals take hundreds of years to form but only seconds to destroy leaving behind a desolate ocean floor. Aotearoa is kaitiaki of the fourth largest EEZ in the world, but we only fully protect 0.04% of our ocean. We can, and should, do better.”

Credit: Greenpeace Aotearoa
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