Election 2023: Green Oceans Policy – Ban trawling on seamounts, strengthen biosecurity

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson will today launch her party’s flagship policy on oceans. Photography: Mark Mitchell

The Green Party is promising a near-immediate ban on trawling in vast swaths of New Zealand’s waters and boosting biosecurity if it is part of the next government.

These policies are part of the broader oceans package unveiled today by co-leader Marama Davidson, which Announce This concept aims to push this portfolio to a higher position on the agenda of any future government.

One such policy is to ban bottom trawling – a commercial fishing practice that essentially drags a large net along the ocean floor – around “seamounts,” or underwater mountains.

Trawling accounts for about 68 percent of all fish caught commercially in this country, some of which occurs in biodiversity hotspots.


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Seamounts, which rise from the sea floor, host a wide range of underwater plants and animals, especially corals and sponges that are particularly vulnerable to trawling practices.

Many features are already protected and the government is consulting on further measures, however, there is some disagreement about exactly how to define them.

A recent study by the Ministry of Primary Industries found that there are 144 seamounts – more than 1,000 meters above the seafloor – within the EEZ and a further 268 outside but within New Zealand’s zone.

Nearly half of these seamounts in New Zealand waters are protected from bottom trawling through benthic protection areas (BPA) and seamount closure areas (SCAs), and only 21 have ever been fished.


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Seamount features as identified by the Green Party are within the exclusive economic zone where bottom trawling will be prohibited.  Photos/MPI
Seamount features as identified by the Green Party are within the exclusive economic zone where bottom trawling will be prohibited. Photos/MPI

However, by expanding the definition to include all features higher than 100 metres, the number rises to 2,964 – including 1,907 within the EEZ.

Green Party policy would ban trawling on all features higher than 100 meters within the EEZ. New Zealand is the only country in the South Pacific that currently allows trawling on these features.

The Green Party also pledges a complete ban on bottom trawling in the Hauraki Gulf.

The party says existing benthic protected areas do not provide sufficient protection from fishing for enough biodiversity hotspots, and an immediate ban is essential to protect ocean health.

Such a policy would likely face strong opposition from the fishing industry, which has proposed protection measures in seamount areas but only those above 1,000 meters that have not been fished before.

The Greens also propose an additional $30 million a year for marine biosecurity, including $15 million in the first year to control the spread of the exotic plant Caulerpa.

The exotic Caulerpa plant is toxic to fish and dominates the habitat of the kura, paua, eucalyptus and scallops.

Since it was first discovered on Great Barrier Island, it has rapidly spread to locations between the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel, killing off native species as it competes for light, food and space.

The party says the $15 million in funding for the Caulerpa response in the first year will support increased surveillance, monitoring, research and piloting of effective responses to the Caulerpa outbreak, and includes funding for iwi and local communities as part of the response.


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