In 2016 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) started a review of New Zealand's fisheries management system to ensure it is still fit-for-purpose and maintains sustainable fisheries for current and future generations.
The Fisheries Act and the Quota Management System – have been in place for 20 and 30 years respectively. Technology has advanced and society's expectations of how fisheries management should operate have changed over that time, giving us an opportunity to review the system. We need to ensure it continues to deliver for all users, ban unsustainable practices and introduce new marine protected areas legislation.
In recent years people have become concerned about the Bay of Islands marine environment, the demise of the habitat and reduced fish stock.
Due to inadequate measures over the last 30years the time has now come to urgently revisit the current legislation and improve it so that the public can have more say in what occurs locally as well as nationally.
It is abundantly clear, the current system to achieve an appropriate balance between protecting our marine environment and maximising commercial, recreational and cultural opportunities is not effective.
Proof of overfishing is apparent by the explosion of kina (sea urchins) in many areas. This has come about due to their natural predators such as snapper and crayfish not being in sufficient numbers or size to cull the kina numbers. The resulting dominance causes destruction to beds of kelp, which provides an important habitat and breeding ground. You only have to go to a marine reserve and witness the difference.
Attached is the submission we made, which is just a starting point for discussion on this very complex subject. There will be an ongoing dialog and we welcome input from you all at any time.
A Marine Protected Area for the Bay of Islands??
MARINE PROTECTION PROPOSALS
Many of the species that the fishing industry wants compensation for in the Kermadec sanctuary do not even occur there, Forest & Bird says.
OPINION: The fishing industry has a laughable case for compensation in the Kermadecs - and the Government shouldn't pay, says Anton van Helden.
The fishing industry recently lodged a legal case against the Government's proposal to establish the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.
The case does not appear to be about the law, nor even about fish. It's about extracting corporate welfare from the taxpayer and blocking future efforts at marine protection. Most of the fish they are seeking compensation for are not found in the Kermadecs and the industry's interpretation of the law of the sea is laughable.
In the 1960s and 70s, New Zealand fought alongside its Pacific Island neighbours to have the right to create a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around offshore islands. Our EEZ was internationally recognized in 1982 when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was agreed.
As a consequence New Zealand, a smallish country with a lot of coastline and many offshore islands, has jurisdiction over the world's 5th largest EEZ.
But an EEZ is not a territorial sea. We don't "own" the EEZ.
UNCLOS gave the government the right to exploit the resources in our EEZ, to control fishing and to allow New Zealand companies exclusive access to fishing quota, while unambiguously stipulating that those rights are paired with our obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.
With the EEZ recognised in international law, the New Zealand Quota Management System was developed. This tool is used to incentivise New Zealand quota holders to sustainably manage fish stocks within our EEZ.
Quota holders have the right to fish for a share of the allowable catch that the Government determines annually under its UNCLOS obligations. The Government is required to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the fisheries, including how, when, and where fish may be caught.
UNCLOS requires the Government to protect the marine environment, and in 2007, with no consultation, the fishing industry itself successfully proposed the closure to bottom trawling of 17 areas of seabed habitat covering 1.2 million square kilometres including the Kermadecs.
The industry and the Government have extensively promoted these "Benthic Protected Area" bottom trawling closures as the largest single marine protection initiative in an EEZ anywhere in the world. Needless to say, the industry has never demanded compensation for these restrictions on its fishing activities.
The fishing industry's assertion that the New Zealand Government does not have the right to create marine protection in the EEZ is clearly laughable.
Yet the fishing industry case also argues for compensation for 66 species that they claim a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will deny them access to.
One would imagine that the fishing industry knows a thing or two about fish. However, from Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) data, 34 of the species they have listed do not even occur in the region, a further 10 are listed as "unknown" for the region, six don't show up in the Ministry's own database, and of the 16 species left, six occur only in the existing marine reserve that covers the territorial seas immediately around the Kermadec Islands.
The preferred method of fishing for at least four of the remaining few species is bottom trawling, which is prohibited by the industry's own designation of the Kermadec region as a Benthic Protected Area. Three species have previously had experimental fisheries in the region that came to nothing. Unsurprisingly there has been almost no fishing in the Kermadec EEZ for the last 10 years.
So with such thin arguments, and so little chance of winning, why is the industry going to court over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary proposal?
Part of the answer can be understood from the makeup of the industry group taking the case. It is telling that one is an investment company involved almost exclusively with aquaculture and inshore fishing, neither of which can happen in the Kermadec region.
The industry is not really concerned about the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Their strategy appears to be to pressure the Government into avoiding the significant cost of a court case by settling for a small compensation payment over the Kermadecs.
While such a solution might be politically attractive in the short term, the long-term consequences for sustainably managing our marine environment would be enormous.
The fishing industry is after a precedent which they can then wield to block any attempt to establish genuine marine protection measures in the rest of our EEZ by demanding massive "compensation" for any new protection proposal. Such demands could then be made against marine protection proposals in the coastal territorial seas.
The Government must resist the industry's stand-over tactics and avoid any quick and dirty out-of-court deals.
The industry's case provides the perfect opportunity for the courts to establish, once and for all, that the international agreement that established our right to sustainably manage our EEZ came with an equal obligation to preserve and protect our marine environment.
Anton van Helden is Forest & Bird's marine advocate.
- The Dominion Post