NZ working on new Ross Sea plan

Last updated 16:50 05/09/2013

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New Zealand is likely to shift its position on protection for the Ross Sea in Antarctica, Prime Minister John Key has confirmed.

Fairfax NZ revealed yesterday that a joint NZ-United States proposal for a marine sanctuary is set to be scaled back after pressure from fishing nations.

Key said today officials are working on a new plan, ahead of talks in Tasmania next month.

An earlier bid, for 2.3 million square kilometre reserve, was scuttled by Russia during talks in Germany in July.

"This is the second attempt to get change, and if we are going to get change we are probably going to make some alterations," he said today.

Restrictions already exist in the pristine environment, but officials in Wellington and Washington have proposed the worlds' biggest marine protection area (MPA) to protect pristine waters and overfishing of toothfish.

New Zealand has some fishing rights in the sea - the US has none.

Other seafaring nations - including Norway, Chile, Korea, China and Japan - oppose the plan.

Environmentalists fear large areas of the proposed reserve will be carved out to win their support.

And insiders are speculating that as much as 40 per cent of the sanctuary, including important spawning grounds in the north, will be cut.

Key said negotiators have "been up against resistance" from several countries.

"New Zealand's view is that we can both maintain the stocks and the way that we sustainably fish for toothfish there. But also, on the other side of the coin, make sure that the pristine environment is maintained there in Antarctica."

The joint NZ-US plan proposed a 2.27 million sqkm reserve, with a a 1.6 million sqkm designated "no-take" zone.

It needs the agreement of the 25-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The toothfish catch is worth about $20 million a year to New Zealand. The international fishery now takes about 3000 tonnes of the fish - also known as Chilean sea bass - from the Ross Sea.

Antarctic waters make up about 10 per cent of the world's seas and are home to almost 10,000 species, including penguins, whales and seals.

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- Fairfax Media

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