Leading environmental organisations and recreational fishers have joined forces to call on the government to restrict bottom trawling.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), Forest & Bird, Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) of New Zealand, Greenpeace, LegaSea and WWF-New Zealand are urging the public to sign a petition calling on the Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash, and the Minister of Conservation, Eugenie Sage, to ban bottom trawling on seamounts and other ecologically sensitive areas.

The groups agree argue that New Zealand's "antiquated" legislation on bottom trawling lags behind the rest of the world, Greenpeace oceans campaigner Jessica Desmond describing it as one of the most brutal and devastating forms of fishing that destroys entire underwater ecosystems.

"Bottom trawling involves dragging monstrous, weighted fishing nets through delicate ocean communities, like seamounts, decimating everything in their path, and there's new evidence suggesting they'll never fully recover," she said.

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Coral forests that had taken centuries to form were ripped up, and the ecosystem that depended on them is ruined, Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague saying that was n unacceptable price to pay for fishing profits.

"Seamounts host the kauri forests of our deep oceans. Slow-growing, life-giving, they must be protected from the irreversible harm caused by bottom trawling. Environmental devastation must not be the cost of making a quick fishing buck," he said.

WWF-New Zealand CEO Livia Esterhazy said seamounts were biodiversity incubators that nurtured and allowed species found nowhere else on Earth, and it was time to put this "precious taonga" first.

"The New Zealand government took the brave step of publicly admitting only 0.4 per cent of our oceans are truly protected," she said.

"We know they want to do better. They can start by showing they're serious about making a change. WWF-New Zealand believes, together, it's possible, to preserve biodiversity by stopping destructive seabed trawling."

ECO co-chairman Barry Weeber said in 2006 New Zealand joined the call by the UN to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems from destructive fishing practices globally, "yet at home our fishing companies continue to destroy the seabed while lobbying the government to keep weak laws that allow them to continue their detrimental practices.

"In international waters, regulations allow trawling vessels to catch up to 300kg of corals and other species in a single tow before they have to move from their fishing spot. In our own waters the situation is worse — there are no effective regulations at all to limit the amount of corals destroyed and brought up in nets."

Scott Macindoe (LegaSea) agreed that the "indiscriminate and disrespectful" bottom trawl method that saw heavy gear dragged across the delicate and vulnerable benthic habitat was no longer acceptable.

"What the net brings to the surface is a small fraction of the destruction to unseen benthos. It has to stop," he said.