Marine protection processes – in need of reform

The November issue of The Fishing Paper & Hunting News ran some insightful articles about the outgoing Labour Government’s, with Green Party cooperation agreement, last-minute Ministerial decisions on marine protected areas (MPAs) along the southeast coast of the South Island. Fish Mainland Inc considers South Island recreational fishers should be aware of the governmentsanctioned processes for MPA planning, as they adversely impact marine fishing.

Our concerns stem from the Department of Conservation (DoC) controlling MPA policy and planning processes, while Fisheries New Zealand (MPI) does little to uphold recreational and commercial fishers’ interests.

Our longstanding concerns have been highlighted by the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General (OAG) whose role, amongst other things, is to be the public’s watchdog by independently reviewing how public organisations operate.

In 2019, the OAG reviewed perceived inadequacies in the 2005 Policy basis for MPA planning www. marine-environment The OAG review included the Southeast MPA planning process. Highlights of the review are summarised as follows:

Policy guidelines for MPAs are too restrictive, thus limiting the available protection.

Fish Mainland has consistently raised similar concerns based on DoC’s influence in designing the 2005 MPA Policy to constrain fishing, wherever possible and to resist alternative proposals to the Policy’s approach.

For example, the 2005 MPA Policy narrowly defines MPAs as no take (Type 1) and restricted take (Type 2), which precludes benthic (bottom) impacting methods.

This narrow definition is used to substantiate DoC’s ongoing assertions New Zealand has inadequate marine protection. The Policy was designed to avoid counting the protection available within customary fishing areas, for example mātaitai reserves and other forms of protection under fisheries legislation.

The 2005 MPA Policy is also out of step with increasing interest worldwide in alternatives to establishing no-take MPAs in perpetuity and instead use a range of biodiversity protection and management measures, such as the protected area categories developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature If the IUCN categories were used, New Zealand would be a world leader in marine protection.

The MPA Policy does not allow a MPA planning forum ‘to be diverted by RMA, aquaculture, or fisheries management matters.’ The OAG states:

“However, these matters are important to many New Zealanders. In practice, some of the South-East Forum members didn’t feel recommendations to the Ministers could adequately address the concerns of the people they represented. Consequently, some members’ participation and confidence in the South-East Forum was undermined, contributing to the creation of factions in the SouthEast Forum that appeared, at times, to operate in an adversarial way.”

Ironically, while the southeast MPA planning forum was not diverted for relevant local issues, DoC attempted to divert our attention towards strong support for the MPAs through the consultation process.

We beg to differ, since the voices of the fishers most impacted were ignored along with their alternative MPA proposals.

Besides, consultation processes are stacked in favour of DoC and others that fully utilise media channels to pad the number of submissions in support of MPAs, despite most not having any understanding of the local situation.

In summary, New Zealand’s MPA planning processes remain overly restrictive and inadequate in addressing local issues.

Fish Mainland agrees with the OAG review concluding:

‘I encourage the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries, as the stewards of an important natural resource, to consider how any reform to marine biodiversity protection legislation, policy, or planning could support greater collaboration between parties, and ultimately protect New Zealand’s unique marine biodiversity in a more effective way.’

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