The Greens are promising a near-immediate ban on fishing trawling in vast swathes of New Zealand waters and a boost to biosecurity if part of the next Government.
The policies are part of a wider oceans package co-leader Marama Davidson is unveiling today, which the Herald understands will aim to push the portfolio higher up the agenda in any future Government.
One of the policies is to ban bottom trawling - a commercial fishing practice essentially dragging a large net along the ocean floor - around “seamounts”, or underwater mountains.
Trawling accounts for about 68 per cent of all fish caught commercially in this country, some of which occurs in these biodiversity hotspots.
Seamounts, which rise up from the seafloor, host a wide range of underwater flora and fauna, especially corals and sponges that are particularly vulnerable to trawling practices.
Many features are already protected and the Government has been consulting on further measures, however, there is some dispute on exactly how they are defined.
A recent study by the Ministry of Primary Industries has found 144 seamounts - over 1000 metres above the seafloor - within the Exclusive Economic Zone and another 268 outside but within the New Zealand region.
About half of those seamounts in New Zealand’s waters are protected from bottom trawling through Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs) and Seamount Closure Areas (SCAs), and just 21 have been trawled before.
However, by expanding the definition to all features above 100 metres, the number grows to 2964 - including 1907 within the EEZ.
The Green Party policy would ban trawling on all features above 100 metres within the EEZ. New Zealand is the only country in the South Pacific that currently allows trawling on these features.
The Green Party is also pledging for a complete ban on bottom trawling within the Hauraki Gulf.
The party says the existing Benthic Protected Areas do not provide sufficient protection from fishing to enough of these biodiversity hotspots and an immediate ban is essential to protect ocean health.
Such a policy is likely to face strong opposition from the fishing industry, which has proposed protection measures in seamount areas but only those above 1000m and that have not been fished before.
The Greens are also proposing an extra $30 million a year for marine biosecurity, including $15m in the first year to control the spread of exotic Caulerpa.
Exotic Caulerpa is toxic to fish, and is taking over the habitat of koura, paua, kina and scallops.
Since its first detection at Great Barrier Island it has spread quickly to locations between the Bay of Islands and Coromandel, killing native species as it competes for light, food and space.
The party says the $15m funding for the Caulerpa response in the first year will support increased surveillance and monitoring and researching and trialling effective responses to the spread of Caulerpa, and includes funding for local iwi and communities as part of the response.