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Māui dolphin and the New Zealand sea lion are on a countdown to extinction – so why do politicians drag their feet?

The Green Party is calling on the Government not to be swayed by industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry proposals to restrict – but not completely ban – bottom trawling on undersea mountains.

A forum of experts, environmentalists and commercial representatives was established earlier this year to provide Ministers with measures to deal with adverse effects from trawling. They are also considering if that should include a ban on fishing ocean volcanoes, known as sea mounts.

But Green MP Eugenie Sage is concerned Sealord, the largest fishing company in the Southern Hemisphere, is trying to pre-empt the recommendations with a watered-down plan.

The Nelson-based firm released a ‘white paper’ on Wednesday which explains a proposal to close some seamounts to bottom trawling. Sage said it is ‘greenwashing’ – when a company markets itself as environmentally friendly without actually minimising its environmental impact.

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The Greens and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an umbrella group of environmental organisations, want a complete ban. The fishing practice sees weighted nets dragged along the sea floor, hauling some of our most popular fish: orange roughy, hoki and oreo. They argue sea mounts are oases of deep sea corals, and other ancient and fragile deep sea life.

New Zealand has the only fleet bottom trawling sea mounts in the South Pacific. About 90 per cent of the catch, for both inshore and deep sea fisheries, comes from bottom trawling.

Sage questioned the timing of Sealord’s ‘white paper’. Recommendations from the forum were due last month but were delayed by wrangles over the terms of reference.

Across the world, environmental activists have been protesting against the damaged caused by bottom trawling. A sign leans against a sculpture of a trawler trailing deep sea fishing nets on the banks of the River Clyde during the COP 26 climate summit last year.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Across the world, environmental activists have been protesting against the damaged caused by bottom trawling. A sign leans against a sculpture of a trawler trailing deep sea fishing nets on the banks of the River Clyde during the COP 26 climate summit last year.

Sage says it echoes tactics used by fishing companies more than a decade ago when similar calls were made to limit harm caused by trawling.

“It muddies the waters and is typical of the industry in trying to mislead people to get a very minimal effort of protection while claiming that it is a lot,” she said. “It is a repeat of the whole benthic protected areas schmozzle.”

BPAs were a less rigorous type of marine protection pushed by the industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry in 2006. They prevent only bottom trawling and dredging, and environmental groups call them ‘bogus protection areas.’

“We’ve got Sealord trying to run a game around the process. And the government has shown itself open to influence from the industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry. We hope they’ll rebuff it.”

Sealord maintains there are 142 seamounts in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone – and it wants close bottom trawling on 89% of those. But it counts only features that rise at least 1000m off the seafloor and critics believe the true number is between 800-1000.

The white paper said only 15 sea mounts have ever been trawled, but the rest are still legally accessible to trawlers. Sealord argued its proposal would ensure untouched sites remain undisturbed while long-established trawling grounds are used to meet fishing quota.

Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin believes it is possible to have sustainable food production and conservation.

Tim Cuff/Nelson Mail

Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin believes it is possible to have sustainable food production and conservation.

Chief executive Doug Paulin said global and local demand could be met. “We strongly believe that it is possible to have sustainable food production alongside conservation of marine ecosystems – the two are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

The proposal would be a further extension of New Zealand’s “tightly regulated” fisheries management system, he said. “Sealord is totally committed to a balance that errs on the side of marine life.”

DSCC’s Barry Weeber said the white paper is “special PR spin to make it look like protection”.

“Sealord has spent thousands on a PR campaign around this ridiculous notion that the only seamounts that count are over 1000m high,” he said.

“Under their proposal, the vast majority of seamounts would still be open to bottom trawling destruction. Essentially, this is the Sealord plan to continue seamount destruction, based on pseudo-science.”

Eugenie Sage, Green Party spokesperson for fisheries, wants the Government to ban bottom trawling on all seamounts.

Supplied

Eugenie Sage, Green Party spokesperson for fisheries, wants the Government to ban bottom trawling on all seamounts.

Parker said recommendations were expected by the end of the year. “Recommendations will be considered alongside advice by Fisheries New Zealand and the Department of Conservation on proposals to be taken to public consultation,” he said.

“I understand Sealord has released its white paper. I welcome feedback on bottom trawling from any interested party, including industry.

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