WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- An international coalition of more than 60 environmental groups has called on New Zealand to pull its bottom trawl fishing fleet out of the international waters of the South Pacific to protect deep-sea life.
In a letter to Prime Minister Helen Clark, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) has urged the Government to withdraw licences from New Zealand-flagged bottom trawlers that fish in international waters for orange roughy and other deep-sea species.
An interim ban would remain until conservation and management measures were established to protect vulnerable deep-sea life.
In its letter to Clark, DSCC co-ordinator Kelly Rigg and policy adviser Matthew Gianni said such an initiative would demonstrate leadership and New Zealand's commitment to protect deep-sea life.
"New Zealand is responsible for 90 per cent of the high seas bottom trawling in the South Pacific," Gianni said.
"Helen Clark has just announced she wants New Zealand aiming to be `the first country which is truly sustainable'. Ending New Zealand's part in the destruction of deep sea life in international waters would be a logical next step."
On November 6, fishing nations from around the world will join New Zealand, Australia and Chile in Hobart to resume negotiations on a new regional fisheries management organisation to cover the South Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea.
It is expected to take several years to conclude the negotiations and get the new organisation running effectively.
A bottom trawl is a cone-shaped net that is towed by one or two boats across the sea floor, as much as 1400m below the surface, its pointed end retaining all the fish that are scooped up.
It can cause damage to extremely slow-growing ecosystems, particularly coral reefs, and also depletes other marine life captured by the nets, critics say.
"Deep-sea life in the high seas of the South Pacific and Tasman Sea can't survive any more years of plunder by New Zealand's bottom trawl fleet," said Gianni.
"There is no need to wait, because New Zealand has the authority to act now, on its own, to halt the destruction."
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