The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said that Australia would support a United Nations move agreed to last week to protect areas of high biodiversity significance from destructive fishing practices where it was warranted in waters beyond national jurisdiction on the "high seas".
Australia has also called for improved international governance on the high seas to protect the marine environment and to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Senator Campbell said that Australia had started talks with New Zealand to identify international waters in need of protection in the Tasman Sea and to find ways to control damaging fishing practices.
"Australia and New Zealand aim to set an example for the world in the protection of these highly productive areas that are abundant with marine life," Senator Campbell said.
"The destruction of marine ecosystems and fisheries in places such as the North Atlantic are a lesson in mismanagement that we are determined to avoid in our part of the world."
Fisheries Minister Senator Ian Macdonald said Australia would continue to fish and trawl responsibly in its surrounding oceans and to develop legitimate fisheries. He said that while Australian fishing operators used modern gear and low-impact trawl techniques on the high seas, they would continue to be required to use observers and to contribute to the scientific knowledge of the area.
Senator Campbell said he was concerned about the environmental impact of less responsible forms of bottom trawling, which can damage the ocean floor and undersea mountains. "Seamounts are recognised by science as the nurseries for productive fisheries and are abundant in diverse marine life." he said. "The Howard Government has already moved to protect seamounts within the national 200 nautical mile zone to the south-east of Tasmania."
There are more than 100,000 known seamounts in the world, including many in the Tasman Sea. Several Australian commercial fish, including Orange Roughy, are based on seamount populations and several prospective fisheries are being assessed by the Australian fishing industry around seamounts in the Indian Ocean.
"The most significant matter for Australia to pursue is how to improve high seas governance and biodiversity conservation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," Senator Macdonald said.
He said this advocacy would continue at the United Nations.