New marine reserves for the South East region – what a biased process

The Ministers of Conservation and Oceans & Fisheries recently announced six new marine reserves in the southeast South Island between Oamaru and The Catlins.

The reserves are an outcome of the southeast Marine Protected Areas (SEMPA) forum that began in 2014 made up by members of the fishing industry, recreational fishers, conservation, customary and community representatives. Two networks were recommended as no consensus on proposed areas could be finalised.

The marine reserves are yet to be confirmed until an Order in Council has been notified after which latitudes and longitudes will be advised and this is not expected to be until early to mid-2024. The second layer, being the Type 2 protection measures are yet to be advised when that process may occur and what restrictions will be applied although they have been included in the initial maps.

The commercial fishing industry recognises that marine protection is paramount to the sustainability and resilience of oceanic ecosystems as they have closed numerous areas through voluntary and regulatory mechanisms. The quota management system and catch reporting systems required for commercial catch provide a high level of monitoring of access and utilisation of fisheries in New Zealand. Where things come unstuck is the skew that conservation and environmental groups try to put on the access to fisheries through misinformation and the progress of multi-sector meetings such as the South East Marine Protection Area forum that was flawed from the start.

The commercial sector was proactive from the start of the forum process, not only from ensuring they were represented via the nomination process and eventuating with only having three seats at the table. It was always going to be a biased process with others from the conservation, environmental, community representation and chairpersonship having undue and weighted influence over the consensus process.

As a matter of interest, the commercial sector proposed from the outset a number of potential closures and restrictions on commercial fishing but proponents from the environmental sector preferred areas that were trawled. This then drew out the process by another three years of deliberation only to come to the stage where these areas were pretty much taken, revamped and recommended by the proponents of network one. The areas differed by the proposal of additional restrictions on commercial fishing beyond the scope of the MPA Policy. What a cop out. This showed a total bias toward the MPA process and showed only that they preferred to continue their campaign by using the forum as their avenue to do so. The outcome for consensus was never going to be the case with this form of lobbying and it showed through to the end for the need to have two networks proposed to Ministers. No surprise there which one the Minister for Conservation and concurrence from a newly appointed Minister of Oceans and Fisheries who had a greener view to ocean management. The suggestion that there were over 4,000 submissions is blatantly wrong given that the majority of those was a form submission with proponents ticking boxes and using the exact same text as provided by the NGO’s rather than making an informed submission. It should not be just a numbers game when it suits the agencies.

The suggestion of an extensive kelp closure and vast area around Otago will have huge economic impacts on commercial access. The proposal of the kelp closures in areas where kelp does not exist or cannot grow because of benthic type such as sandy bottom to get its roots into, is a total misuse of the MPA process and yet it was allowed to be considered by the majority and Chair of the forum. This proposal totally refuses to recognise the property rights of the commercial sector. Certain kelp species are managed under the quota management system which will provide for the protection needed and not through the over emotive closures as proposed by the forum member who with their science background and pet kelp projects has misused the MPA process.

Southern Inshore was a member of the forum along with two other commercial sector representatives. The forum process is demoralising and soul destroying especially when the odds will always be stacked and weighted against you in such forum processes. The commercial representatives provided real time information to the table from years and years of at sea experience only for it to be disputed by those forum members who have spent their life in theory or head in a book. Many of these people came to the table with an agenda that would see the riddance of commercial fishing to meet their propaganda manifesto, the latest being a ban on bottom trawling through the misinformation process.

The commercial fishing sector have proposed numerous fishing closures and fishing gear restrictions throughout the South Island and New Zealand for fish and protected species over a number of years, but this never gets recognition, as advocates from the greener element get a louder voice at forum and within media levels. This has been evident recently with trying to get our voice in media publications but yet they accept letters to editors from academics from Otago University with one marine science professor saying “To the unhappy fishing community, our message should be Watch this Space” and said they were dancing in the office. Not the most professional approach for someone influencing young scientists. She also ignores the science from her international peers that dispute that marine reserves do not necessarily improve abundance for species that have a wide movement range.

We will continue to fight to preserve our fisheries and environments to maintain our access through appropriate protection measures and management, rather than emotive rhetoric and environmental bullying as New Zealand has already got over 30% marine protection closures that these people choose not to recognise.

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