The Fiordland Marine Guardians – a model for integrated management

The Fiordland Marine Guardians is an advisory group that works with local interests, Iwi, local and central government agencies and ministers to manage the Fiordland Marine Area.

“Our mahi is focused on identifying environmental risks to Fiordland and finding effective ways to mitigate those risks,” says Chair of the Guardians, Dr Rebecca McLeod.

“The integrated approach to management of this incredible place came from the community and to this day the Guardians consider the community holds the answers to its effective management.

Fiordland comes first – we are managing it for the future, not just the present day. Those original Guardians were real visionaries and so as much as anything we are trying to do them proud.”

The Guardians arose during the 1990s when some locals came together to express their hopes and concerns about the future of Fiordland’s fisheries and marine environment. Their discussions were often tense until each understood what the other valued and what they held in common.

The Guardians have been guided since the beginning by a shared vision, which is to maintain or improve the quality of Fiordland’s marine environment and fisheries for future generations to use and enjoy.

Fish Mainland was modelled on the Guardians’ integrated approach. Fish Mainland’s Board of Directors includes two of the original Guardians, Alan Key who was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 2014 for his voluntary work on sustainable fisheries and Stewart Bull who continues to serve as a Guardian. Bull was similarly honoured in 2018, receiving the Queen’s Service Medal for services to the Māori community and the environment. 

The Guardians’ integrated approach to decision making continues. The most recent decisions began in 2022 when the Guardians proposed regulatory amendments to better align them with the philosophy of ‘fishing for a feed,’ not the freezer. These amendments were developed following a review of fisheries sustainability and increased fishing pressure.

Fish Mainland, however, had concerns about parts of the Guardians’ proposal with respect to their rationale and likely longterm consequences for recreational fishers.

In 2022, Fish Mainland accompanied the Guardians and Fisheries New Zealand (MPI) officials during public meetings in Otago and Southland to consult on the proposals.

“The consultation process worked as it should. The Guardians carefully listened to what Fish Mainland and the wider public had to say and the Guardians modified their proposals accordingly,” said Alan Key.

“Fish Mainland and the Guardians agree the overriding challenge to improved management of Fiordland is to collect better data on recreational catch and effort. For this purpose, Fish Mainland has promoted fisher self-reporting of catch and effort data.

Fish Mainland has developed a self-reporting system, aptly named Mainland Catch, first applied to the South Island blue cod fishery. The use of Mainland Catch could greatly expand the data available for many other fisheries, including those in Fiordland.

During the public meetings about the Guardians’ proposals, recreational fishers consistently supported Mainland Catch and its mandatory use in Fiordland. The public understands we can’t manage what we don’t measure.”

The Guardians’ advice was recreational self-reporting become mandatory for the Fiordland Marine Area based on the strong support expressed for mandatory reporting. Whilst not accepting this recommendation, the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries has encouraged us to promote voluntary use of the Mainland Catch app” said Dr Rebecca McLeod.

“The Guardians request you download this app and start recording your catch. The data will support our future review of the effectiveness of our recent changes to improve sustainability of key stocks.”

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