September 11 2013

The company that wants to mine the seabed of a protected underwater ‘national park’ is refusing to share their analysis of the likely damage with the public or with the seafood industry.

Chatham Rock Phosphate is preparing an application to strip mine large areas of the  seabed on the Chatham Rise.  Seabed mining at these depths has never been done before.

The environmental risks are unknown and are potentially catastrophic for the marine environment and for fisheries productivity.

“What have they got to hide?  We made a request under the Official Information Act (OIA) to see their environmental impact assessment, but crucial parts of the information have been withheld, even though there is considerable public anxiety about the risks involved,” says George Clement CEO of Deepwater Group.

Deepwater Group, a non-profit organisation supporting sustainable deep water fishing, believes seabed mining in this area could devastate the hoki industry, worth about $195 million a year.

Scientists believe the Chatham Rise is the only juvenile nursery for young hoki, before the fish migrate across New Zealand waters.

The information has been withheld by the Environmental Protection Authority, on the advice from Chatham Rock Phosphate that releasing information to the public would prejudice their commercial position.

“We believe public interest should trump commercial interest here.”

“We have asked the Environmental Protection Authority to review their decision to withhold the missing information.  Once the formal submission process begins, the public will have four weeks to test the company’s assumptions.  That’s not enough time.”

What are Benthic Protection Areas?

In 2007 the fishing industry worked with the government to create special Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs) or underwater ‘national parks’.  There are now seventeen BPAs, all of which represent different ecosystems across New Zealand’s oceans.  Thirty per cent of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or 1.1 million square kilometres of our seabed, is now protected by law from any dredging or bottom trawling.  When introduced, the BPAs comprised 24% of the total area covered by marine protected areas in the world and closed an area equivalent to 15 times the land area of New Zealand.