Cascading closures are not management

No go for 2 years?

Regular correspondent Daryl Sykes attempts to clarify the distinction between ‘fisheries management’ and ‘not-fisheries management’, the latter being the increasingly prolific response from the agency claiming management authority over New Zealand fisheries. He argues that a little common sense should indicate that…

Previous articles have noted the consequences to fishers and to fish stocks of the closure of fishing grounds. The displacement effect forces effort into smaller spaces, leading to localised spatial depletion. The challenge is to manage fishing; to paraphrase the Fisheries Act—the goal is to enable utilisation whilst ensuring sustainability.

One government agency is responsible for fisheries management in accordance with the act, and it seems to have thrown in the towel. Managing fishing has obviously proven too difficult—other than in the commercial sector where all manner of constraints, surveillance and penalties apply. Hence, the agency’s fall-back position is to close areas to fishing—the mismanagement approach.

Currently, there are two formal consultation processes underway. The first relates to a proposal to ‘temporarily’ close 300 square kilometres of Taranaki waters to all extractive use other than for finfish, between the Rawa Stream in the south and Herekawe Stream, near New Plymouth’s Back Beach, in the north, and out to two nautical miles. The second seeks feedback on the renewal of a two year temporary closure at Waimārama in Hawkes Bay.

Several weeks earlier, a separate proposal to close a large area around Great Barrier Island was under consideration and that was followed up with yet another proposed closure in the vicinity of Great Mercury Island. It is worth noting that those two northern proposals are completely unrelated to the imminent Hauraki Gulf spatial management plan (closures to fishing) previewed earlier this year.

Something is clearly wrong

The current closure proposals are being made under s186A of the Fisheries Act 1996, which provides that the Minister of Fisheries may temporarily close an area in respect of any species of fish, aquatic life or seaweed. Before doing so, the Minister must be satisfied that closing the area will recognise and provide for the use and management practices of tangata whenua in the exercise of non-commercial fishing rights by: • improving the availability or size (or both) of a species of fish, aquatic life or seaweed; or • recognising a customary fishing practice in that area.

Taranaki Iwi consider that the temporary closure will provide time for pāua and other taonga species that are being overfished, to regenerate to ‘levels of sustainability which would ensure their continued survival for the benefit of future generations’.

Several aspects of their proposal deserve scrutiny. The assertion that species are being overfished—there is no stock monitoring or research information offered in support of that claim. However, something is clearly wrong and Iwi requesting the closure and those concerned about being locked out should be asking why overfishing was allowed to occur. The second aspect is the Iwi expectation that a two year temporary closure will provide the opportunity for stocks to regenerate. Clearly that is not the case. Similar closures elsewhere have failed in that regard, despite repeated renewals. Case in point, the Waimārama renewal also being consulted at the same time. Ngāi Hapū o Waimārama have requested the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries impose a further temporary closure under s186A to prohibit the take of pāua for a two-year period.

Again there is no stock monitoring information in support of that proposal but, on the basis of the request itself, the applicants have no doubt that the first two year closure did not achieve what was expected. Neither have multiple two year closures on the Kaikoura coast and Maunganui Bay in Northland. The closures are little more than an admission of defeat—a confirmation that we have an agency apparently incapable of managing fishing.

Back to Taranaki. The size of the proposed closure is extreme in the context of the problems that allegedly initiated the request to the Minister. The legal prohibition was requested by the hapū of Taranaki Iwi following alarm over summer that the region’s pāua beds were being stripped bare by hundreds of visitors, many but not all from outside the area. But interestingly, and predictably, the hapū do have a plan to manage fishing given that no-one has been doing it properly to date.

Recreational management plan desperately needed

Active steps are needed to measure and manage recreational catch—the key source of unmanaged fishing pressure in the locality (there has never been a commercial pāua industry in Taranaki). Iwi have announced that possible future measures to protect the kai moana could include increasing the size for takeable shellfish, lowering the daily bag limits, and making it illegal to take pāua off rocks—so it could only be harvested by diving— and having short closures to protect the shellfish beds during the very low tides that had attracted crowds of out of-town harvesters over the summer.

Hapū should kick that management plan off immediately.

It’s pointless waiting two years to get started because, on top of that, it will take twelve months or more to implement, so three years down the track nothing positive will have been achieved, despite good intentions.

The overreach of the proposed closure is also a guarantee of strong objections from recreational and commercial harvesters, whereas well-constructed regulatory proposals would surely have community and inter-sectorial support.

First stage of local action

Compelling reasons why everyone with an interest in going fishing and diving for food and recreation should oppose these ‘temporary closures’ in favour of managing fishing in a timely and practical manner.

Lobster boys vote management over displacement

The rock lobster industry will have no choice but to strongly object to the Taranaki proposal—the two nautical mile closure would put an end to all potting for a stock that is demonstrably well monitored and sustainably managed. Don’t assume that the resident lobster boats can just move along the coast and keep fishing—hapū to the north have already signalled their intentions to extend the currently proposed closures, because they too understand the consequences of displacement. However, and for the record, the lobster industry would support measures to adequately manage fishing on the Taranaki coastline (and elsewhere).

Existence of a s186A closure and expectations that it will be renewed time and again without due scrutiny is likely to detract from, rather than incentivise, the development of more appropriate and effective management responses. Closures will remove legitimate users from productive fishing grounds, result in displacement of effort, and exacerbate localised depletion in other areas. Closures also facilitate poaching, once legitimate users move away.

Playing into hands of poachers

There are numerous media reports of poaching along the Taranaki coastline. In one day in 2005, ten fisheries officers nabbed offenders as they left various beaches—from Cape Egmont to Opunake—and confiscated 1300 illegal pāua. Additionally, 15 infringement notices were issued in one night and eight prosecutions were set to follow. The alleged offenders were all locals!

Media reported a Fishery Officer saying that a “disgusting” amount of pāua was confiscated from several offenders, many times more than recreational fishing limit. “We took hundreds off some people.”

There are nearly two decades of similar media reports since. If offenders are not deterred by bag limits, size limits and/or risk of prosecution, they are hardly likely to be deterred by closures.

Temporary closures will exacerbate competition and conflict between users and likely fuel the ongoing cascading series of ad hoc closures in the North Island, with the remaining fishing effort increasingly concentrated in just a few areas. This is clearly not a sustainable approach to fisheries management and it undermines customary fishing rights by hindering the ability of other nearby hapū to exercise their customary fishing rights in their own rohe moana.

Current closure proposal

The last word goes to the Taranaki recreational fishing clubs. Their spokesperson, when acknowledging Iwi concerns, wisely noted that the club would like rock lobsters to be managed separately, including bag limit sizes, spatial requirements and enforcement, rather than included in the proposed ban, which would see all diving for lobsters and most potting from boats prohibited.

“The anecdotal evidence is that cray populations overall along the coast are the best they have been for decades, although we are aware of spatial conflict and localised depletion seasonally. Full closure of such a large area would displace fishing to areas north and south of the closed area. If overall management is not considered, we will see the same issues moved along the coastline.”

True that. Now that the Taranaki hapū have forced the issue it would be both timely and appropriate for the agency charged with providing for utilisation whilst ensuring sustainability to get started on the process of managing fishing. They could get some useful guidance from Taranaki locals who have been highlighting the depletion of shellfish on inshore grounds for decades.

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