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Closing statement on SPRFMO – DSCC and ECO

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) today expressed dismay at New Zealand walking away from its own 2023 commitment to advance ocean protection from destructive bottom trawling – at the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Agreement (SPRFMO) meeting which has just ended in Manta, Ecuador.

New Zealand, backed solely by the Faroe Islands and the bottom trawling industry, blocked the implementation of its own earlier proposed new trawling limits designed  to protect biodiversity hotspots such as seamounts from bottom trawling in the South Pacific. NZ is the only country still bottom trawling in the South Pacific high seas.

New Zealand scientists had spent the past year working on the details of the new plan, but the new government backed away from making a proposal at the last minute, resulting in Australia having to submit it instead. New Zealand then point blank refused to agree to what was essentially its own work to the  frustration of not only Australia, but the US, EU and Chile and the Cook Islands.

Today New Zealand rejected multilateralism and environmental protection and acted completely out of step with international practice and norms, going against some of our closest political allies,

said DSCC head of delegation Duncan Currie. 

This  backward move took place at the same time as New Zealand’s new Foreign Minister Winston Peters was agreeing a statement with Australia emphasising the importance of multilateralism both with Australia and in the Pacific region. It beggars belief,” said Currie.

said Currie. 

New Zealand’s belligerent stance of prioritising vested industry interest over international cooperation has made it embarrassing to be a New Zealander this past week,”

said Karli Thomas, who was on the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition delegation at the meeting. 

New Zealand must not authorise bottom trawling activities this year until protection measures have been both adopted and implemented to meet our international obligations. Last year the Commission adopted the necessary measure by consensus, which would have protected at least 70 percent of vulnerable marine ecosystems, but this week New Zealand has done a  u-turn and blocked its implementation.

said Karli Thomas, who was on the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition delegation at the meeting.

Barry Weeber of the Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO), who was also at the meeting, said: ”New Zealand’s  willingness to walk away from international obligations that it had  it  committed to just last year – despite our own scientists having done the work that was needed to implement what was agreed – is breathtaking and irresponsible.

New Zealand also proposed a plan that would allow its trawl industry to catch three years’ quota of orange roughy in a single year, a move that goes against good fisheries management practice globally. Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s proposal failed to get any support at the meeting – again, apart from the Faroe Islands and the bottom trawling industry.

The DSCC and ECO  strongly opposed the plan as reckless. The SPRFMO Scientific Committee identified it might have increased the destructive trawl footprint and impacts  on vulnerable marine ecosystems. The Commission rejected the proposal.