There is a better way to ensure marine protection

From left to right: Brett Bensemann – President of the Tautuku Fishing Club Dunedin & Haast Inc Ate Heinemann – SEMPA Forum Member (commercial fishing) Chanel Gardner – Executive Officer for the Otago Rock Lobster Industry Kees Meeuws – Recreational fisher, ex-All Black, former Highlanders Coach

An after-effect of the Labour Government is its last-minute (5 October) announcement of Ministerial decisions to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) along the Southeast coast of the South Island. The announcement was to establish six new no-take marine reserves and other types of MPAs.

The announcement followed on from a protracted MPA planning process that cost the former Government around $4 million.

The planning process included a 13-member Southeast MPA (SEMPA) forum comprising marine scientists, Ngāi Tahu, various local interests, including commercial fishers. The forum did not include anyone who represented recreational fishers.

Fish Mainland strongly objected to the SEMPA forum members having been muzzled, unable to publicly disclose proposed plans and points of contention and seek public input, except through consultation.

It should be noted the Southeast coastline is not under threat of fishing, and there are already protected areas, such as mātaitai reserves, that do not meet the protection criteria, so they are not counted.

Fish Mainland is working with local interests to urge the new Government to consider broader protection criteria, along with an overhaul of the planning process.

Brett Bensemann, President of the Dunedin-based Tautuku Fishing Club, says ‘our understanding is that all local fishers are in it together. Where we go for recreational fishing with our families and friends are also the sources of livelihood for local commercial fishers. We must respect each other’s right to be there and work together to preserve it for the future.’

Ate Heinemann, who represented commercial fishers on the SEMPA Forum, says ‘some of the SEMPA forum members who promoted establishing MPAs over valuable fishing grounds showed little, if any, respect for fishers retaining access to those grounds. Some did not realise, or seem to care, that alternative fishing grounds are often cause for concerns about safety, loss of income and exacerbated conflicts between fishing sectors.’

Chanel Gardner, ExecutiveOfficer for the Otago Rock Lobster Industry, says ‘the proponents of the no-take reserves say they will “reduce human interference” and protect “declining fish stocks.” However, the science around the reserves simply doesn’t exist, and where they are located not only prevents commercial fishing for the community but does nothing for our protected species.’

‘The fish stocks around Otago are so well managed that the no-take reserves offer absolutely nothing special to Otago and introduce a whole lot of headaches for our communities’ says Chanel.

Ex-All Black Kees Meeuws says ‘the Otago coastline is too important to many of us to have some vested interests attempt to lock it up and deny us our longstanding right to gather kai, especially when people are going through hard times.’

‘We can do better than that if we work together. We will emphasise to the new Government the need to ensure appropriate levels of protection are applied to the right areas.

That way, those of us who fish will be able to continue accessing areas that are important to us,’ says Kees.

Finally, Fish Mainland considers that MPA planning processes must be respectful of Treaty-based rights to fisheries resources and areas set aside for Māori customary fishing. However, we are concerned the former Government apparently made behind-closed-door deals with Ngāi Tahu to secure their ongoing access and ‘co-management’ of the new MPAs.

Our objection is that all SEMPA forum members and the public should have been informed of any proposed new deals with Ngāi Tahu, and all concerned should have had opportunities to voice their views and have them considered before Ministerial decisions were made and announced.

“Media coverage of the 5 October media announcement stated the MPA decision could be scrapped by the incoming government postelection. This could mean we have a further opportunity to express our objections to the MPAs.”

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