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NZ accused of whaling-like ploy for Ross Sea

Wednesday 31 Oct 2012 5:47 p.m.

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By Samantha Hayes

New Zealand is accused of adopting the Japanese whaling ploy to get agreement on a marine reserve in Antarctica.

New Zealand’s plan allows for what's called ‘limited fishing’ inside the park - something critics say echoes Japan's insistence on 'scientific whaling'.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is currently holding a conference in Hobart about how to protect Antarctica’s living marine resources, such as toothfish.

But delegates from CCAMLR's 25 member countries are struggling to agree on how to protect the Ross Sea's diverse and unique species.

New Zealand CCAMLR commissioner Carolyn Schwalger says the conference has been quite intense.

“It's heavy going at the moment.”

That's because New Zealand wants to continue fishing, where the United States initially wanted to ban it.

The requirements of joint proposal currently on the table are that 2.2 million square kilometres would be protected as the world's largest marine reserve, but some of that area would be termed a special research zone where light fishing would occur.

It's understood another area would only be closed to fishing when toothfish spawn – which scientists suspect is in winter when no boats are capable of fishing anyway.

"What we managed to do in the end was come up with an area that will be lightly fished,” Ms Schwalger says. “So enough fishing will take place there so we can feel satisfied we can sustain the tagging programme and at the same time the United States, as we understand it, are satisfied they can do the research that they want to do.”

Commercial boats tag and release toothfish to calculate the population and it's thought light fishing would enable that to continue.

But director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance Stephen Campbell is worries about what that could mean.

"The Japanese scientific whaling is commercial whaling by another name. But in this instance in relation to the Ross Sea, we still have to see the details."

Regardless of what's decided at the conference tomorrow, four New Zealand boats will soon head to the Ross Sea.

The race for 'white gold', as toothfish is nicknamed, begins on December 1, and the quota's already set at 3000 tonnes.

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