Benthic protection areas

Benthic protection areas (BPAs) are areas of seabed in New Zealand where some fishing activity is illegal. Find out more about them, including legal fishing within BPAs.


How much seabed is protected?

Since 2007, 32% of New Zealand's seabed is protected against dredging and bottom trawling. This is an area 4 times the landmass of New Zealand. It's also one of the largest single marine protection initiatives in any nation's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

More details

About 1.2 million square kilometres of seabed habitat is protected. This includes:

  • 28% of underwater topographic features (including seamounts)
  • 52% of seamounts (underwater mountains over 1000 metres in height)
  • 88% of active hydrothermal vents.

During development of our BPAs, the United Nations mentioned seamounts and hydrothermal vents as specific habitats that needed protection.

Background

In 2007, the Government accepted an industry proposal to close 17 areas to bottom trawling and dredging. The changes for this took effect in the same year.

Before the BPA regulations were implemented, the level of protection was about 2% of New Zealand's EEZ.

How BPAs are protected

Fishing within 100m of the seabed is restricted in a BPA. This minimises the risk of fishing gear touching the floor.

The buffer zone, between 100m and 50m above the seabed, protects fishers from legal problems – fishing within 50m of the sea floor is illegal.

What happens if fishers break this law?

Fishing within 50m of the sea floor carries a fine of up to $100,000 and seizure of the vessel.

Legal fishing activity within BPAs

Off-bottom trawl fishing is allowed in BPAs, if fishers meet the requirements.

Requirements for off-bottom trawl fishing

Before entering a BPA, vessel operators must inform the Fisheries Communication Centre of which BPA they intend to enter, and that they will be off-bottom trawl fishing.

Observers

Two observers must be on board the vessel and must be told before the off-bottom trawling begins.

Electronic net monitoring

The vessel must have an electronic net monitoring system (ENMS) that continuously records when trawling:

  • the depth of the ground rope and seabed 
  • the date and time
  • the latitude and longitude of the vessel
  • any other information that may be required.

Read our circular, which explains the standards and requirements that apply to ENMS for use within BPAs.

Find out more

The Government is reforming BPAs and marine protected areas. Learn about the reforms.

Who to contact

If you have questions about benthic protection areas, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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