Company and fishers sentenced for bottom trawling in a Benthic Protected Area
Sealord Group Limited (Sealord) has been ordered to forfeit a US$16 million vessel and fined $24,000 today in the Nelson District Court for bottom trawling in a protected area.
Sealord vessel master Bolen Terric Goomes was fined $7,500 and first mate Thomas Adrian Pope was fined $5,000. They were convicted on one representative charge each, relating to 5 trawls for the company, 3 trawls for the skipper, and 2 trawls for the first mate. The charges relate to fishing in an area closed to bottom trawling activity, contrary to Fisheries (Benthic Protection Areas) Regulations 2007.
Benthic Protected Areas protect large areas of mostly pristine marine environment. These marine landscapes are home to spectacular underwater mountains, valleys, geysers, and muddy flats and are protected through industry agreed measures.
Ministry for Primary Industries' (MPI's) director compliance Gary Orr says “All bottom trawling and dredging is illegal in Benthic Protected Areas. To ensure that fishing gear does not touch the bottom, trawling within 100 metres of the seabed is prohibited within a Benthic Protection Area.”
The convictions resulted from a hoki fishing trip on Sealord’s commercial fishing vessel Ocean Dawn to the Chatham Rise, approximately 200 nautical miles east of Christchurch, within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
The offending was detected by MPI on 29 October 2018. The offending relates to 5 trawls that occurred during 26 October to 28 October 2018. Sealord also self-reported the offence. Four of the 5 trawls took place partially inside the Mid-Chatham Rise Benthic Protection Area. The final trawl was entirely inside the protection area. For each of the trawls, the net was hard on the seabed and within the lower buffer zone of 50 metres off the bottom.
The quantity of sponges reported caught as bycatch by Sealord in the 5 illegal trawls was 1300kg.
Approximately 40,000kg of fish was caught during the 5 trawls. Some of this fish was caught inside the Benthic Protection Area.
In addition to the vessel Ocean Dawn being forfeit, the proceeds from the sale of the entire catch taken in the 5 offending trawls is also forfeit which amounts to $112,294.13.
Sealord Group Limited can make an application to the courts for relief from the effects of forfeiture in relation to the vessel.
The defendants were sentenced on the basis that they had not deliberately bottom trawled in a protected area, but they had failed to take reasonable steps to avoid the offending.
Gary Orr says “It is important that the companies sending skippers to sea give them adequate training and provide sufficient oversight well after the vessel leaves the port. They need to provide transparent and up-to-date information and systems onboard their vessels so that incidents like this do not happen.
“Fishing activity is now closely monitored with the aid of new geospatial position reporting regulations that mean fishing vessels are monitored in near real-time when fishing. Alerts are triggered when a vessel enters a closed or restricted area."
In 2007, the Government closed 17 separate Benthic Protection Areas within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, comprising 1.1 million square kilometres, to dredging and bottom trawling. The purpose of the closures is to protect vulnerable benthic (seafloor) biodiversity.
The Fisheries (Benthic Protection Areas) Regulations 2007 (BPA Regulations) make it illegal to trawl within 100m above the seabed. Midwater trawling is allowed above that level but subject to strict conditions so as to preclude contact with, and therefore damage to, the benthic environment.