The seafood industry is welcoming the discovery of new Kermadec fish species.
Industry has long recognised the conservation values of this large area, untouched by human activities, says Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement.
There is full marine reserve status out to 12 miles around the Kermadec Islands and, in 2007, the New Zealand Government created a marine protected area across the whole 200 mile zone around the Kermadec Islands – one that prohibits bottom trawling and dredging in order to ensure the seabed ecosystems remain untouched.
“This has resulted in a pristine area that will continue to yield fascinating new discoveries for science and we welcome that,” says George.
The new species were discovered on a 20-day scientific voyage to the remote Kermadec region by NIWA on the research vessel Tangaroa.
Longline, trolling and purse seining – methods which catch transitory species which seasonally migrate through this region and do not impact on the seabed, are the only fishing methods permitted in the Kermadec Benthic Protected Area.
The Kermadec marine protected area, is one of several large areas closed by law to protect a representative range of the marine biodiversity found on the seabed of New Zealand's EEZ.
These closed areas were selected, using the best available science, to protect at least 10 per cent of each of the Marine Environment Classification types found in New Zealand waters.
“In total, 31 per cent of the seabed within New Zealand's EEZ is now closed to protect marine biodiversity – that's an area around four times New Zealand's landmass,” says George.
“The Benthic Protection Areas also protect 52 percent of known seamounts, which are underwater mountains over 1,000 m in height, and 88 percent of active hydrothermal vents.
“The Seafood Industry supports these marine protected areas. We look forward to seeing the Government supporting more extensive scientific exploration of New Zealand's large marine zone, particularly to establish the biodiversity protected within marine protected areas and elsewhere.”
The research voyage took place late last year and was unique in bringing together scientific expertise in a range of disciplines from seven New Zealand organisations.
It enabling work to be undertaken from the intertidal zone of the islands down to 3000 metres deep, and from the surface of the ocean to the seafloor.
Voyage leader NIWA and fisheries scientist Dr Malcolm Clark says the region, about 800km northeast of New Zealand, is as near pristine as can be found in New Zealand waters.
This means researchers were able to establish a baseline to compare with future surveys as ocean conditions change.
“Because the Kermadecs is an area where there is no fishing, we're able to measure natural variability and natural change free of some of the main human influences that occur close to mainland New Zealand.”
This can aid both conservation of biodiversity, and enable us to better understand the effects of human activities, which are important elements of the proposed Kermadec-Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary, says Malcolm.
The survey recorded 236 fish species including three likely new to science. There were 60 that are new records for the Kermadec region and 20 are new to New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.
More than 250 invertebrate species were also provisionally identified, although many will be sent to experts in New Zealand and internationally for formal identification. It is likely many will be new species to science.