This is an article from the New Zealand Herald
28th June 2003
By: Geoff Cumming
The one that got away
Scott Macindoe would rather be fishing. Instead, he is at his home-office computer in Epsom, Auckland, trawling through emails from fellow fishers. Every few minutes there is another tug on the line.
Macindoe feeds back fresh tidbits on the threat to New Zealanders' God-given right to catch nature's bounty - just enough to feed the family, naturally.
The threat, from what Macindoe calls an out-of-control Department of Conservation, is imminent. Unless fishers flood the department with submissions by Monday, a huge chunk of the seas could get away - 50,000ha off Great Barrier Island may be locked up forever in a "no take" marine reserve.
The Government's drive to protect 10 per cent of marine life for posterity has fishers reeling. Conservation Minister Chris Carter has made marine protection his priority and asked DoC to identify potential sites for a network of reserves to preserve marine biodiversity.
When you consider that our economic zone covers 480 million ha of ocean, 10 per cent may not seem a lot. As Carter is fond of saying, it still leaves 90 per cent open for fishing. But which 10 per cent? And why?
To Auckland's large recreational fishing fraternity, the blows are coming wave upon wave. First Tiritiri Matangi and nearby Whangaparaoa Peninsula, then the west coast from Muriwai to Port Waikato, now the biggest of them all - a vast block of ocean from Great Barrier's northeast coastline to the 12-mile limit.
It is a similar tale up and down the country. At internationally known deep-sea fishing venues like Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands and the Volkner Rocks in the Bay of Plenty, and at a dozen other spots around the coast, marine reserves are clearing statutory hurdles.
DoC maintains that the proposals are no more than that - consultation on the Barrier and on Tiritiri is based on discussion documents and formal applications are some time away. The public will then have two months to support or object. On the West Coast, Forest and Bird's proposal for a marine park (where fishing is allowed) merely flags the idea of marine reserves in highly stressed areas.
But if this is a phony war, battlelines are being drawn, entrenched positions taken. It is the pipe-opener to an ideological clash: the freedom to fish sustainably versus the wish to enshrine biodiversity for future generations. As with most wars, logic and truth are early casualties.
"The plan of these eco-Nazis is in fact to dot the coastline with reserves and then join them up so there is no commercial fishing in New Zealand," says Moana Pacific chief executive Bruce Young.
The fishers have seized on an ageing DoC map of the Hauraki Gulf, studded with 21 dots warranting investigation as marine-protected areas - 15 in the inner gulf. DoC says the dots are only possibilities and the map is nearly out of date.
But more reserves are in the pipeline, at the Noises in the gulf and at Mimiwhangata and Whangarei Harbour (proposed by Kamo High School students) in Northland. Dozens more are rumoured as the Government strives to build its network.
Where DoC is not doing the bidding, it is aiding and abetting others, including Forest and Bird and iwi. Its assistance to the New Zealand Underwater Association's Tiritiri proposal includes $20,000 of taxpayers' money.
New legislation, the Marine Reserves Bill, is being ushered in to make it easier to create reserves.
Who would argue against preserving our wondrous, and often rare, undersea flora and fauna for future generations? As DoC's Auckland conservator, Rob McCallum says New Zealanders have grown up close to the water and are passionate about protecting their marine heritage.
But between half a million and one million New Zealanders also like to fish. Two weekends ago, Macindoe drew a line in the sand against the incoming tide of applications when he tackled DoC's tactics on the Barrier.
Limiting consultation on the discussion document to the offshore island of 1000 people deliberately ignored the interests of thousands more Aucklanders, he said.
Having DoC in charge of the application process was "like having a rabbit in charge of the lettuce patch".
In common with most fishers, Macindoe is not immune to exaggeration or colourful language. He is a businessman who prefers a fishing jersey to a suit.
Hair dishevelled, face weathered, you suspect he has closed a few deals with cellphone in one hand and rod in the other, preferably out the back of the Barrier, where a city slicker can "take that brief momentary lapse from the larder factory".
"The Coromandel has been done to death and all the other coasts are completely developed. When you finally make it out there you are not out there to fish, you are out there to be.
"It is wilderness, it is spectacular ... it doesn't get any better."
Lately he has been shorebound, fighting for the rights of fishers. He helped to form the option4 lobby group when the Ministry of Fisheries and the Recreational Fishing Council tried to limit leisure fishers to a fixed share of the fishery. Now attention has turned to marine reserves and option4 and the fishing council have put past acrimony behind them.
The Government is riding roughshod over the public's clear desire to conserve fish, he says. The quota management system, bag limits and other mechanisms offer more flexible means of ensuring sustainability. Locking fishers out of areas is a sledge-hammer approach that will not address the real threat to marine biodiversity - environmental degradation.
"It is an ideology that finds its spawning ground in the biodiversity strategy, but 99.9 per cent of the species will be unaffected."
If Macindoe has the gift of the gab, his allies are more direct.
"This is going to bite them on the arse - it's shaping up as the biggest election issue the Government has ever faced," says Keith Ingram, a board member of the Recreational Fishing Council.
By any measure, the present push for reserves is a seachange from past policy. Since the first reserve was created at Leigh in 1975 only 18 have been established, covering just 1.5 per cent of the coastline. Ingram says the fishing council does not oppose marine reserves as such - it supported 12 previous proposals and was the applicant for one, in the Marlborough Sounds.
But the 10 per cent target for marine protection by 2010, laid down in the biodiversity strategy, and a new Marine Reserves Bill have changed the environment. Reserves were originally to preserve unique and beautiful species for scientific purposes; the new bill broadens the scope for reserves to conserve marine biodiversity for future generations and provide potential for tourism activity, bringing "economic benefits".
Anyone can apply for a reserve. Only where DoC is the applicant does the Minister of Conservation have to obtain an independent assessment. The need to obtain the Minister of Fisheries' assent is removed.
Chris Carter says he is amazed that anyone could oppose marine reserves, which boost overall fishing stocks and represent a "win-win for everyone from biodiversity to economic opportunity".
With only 1.5 per cent of coastal waters in reserves at the moment "why are we quibbling about 10 per cent?"
But Ingram says 7 per cent of coastal waters are already off-limits for fishing as cable lanes, shipping lanes and defence areas. "They are trying to double dip - 20 per cent is their objective, they are being deceitful."
Behind the scenes, bureaucrats are beavering away on a new oceans policy, a marine protected areas strategy, a new Marine Mammals Protection Act and marine farming law reforms. With large coastal areas expected to be taken for aquaculture when the moratorium is lifted next year, it is easy to see why fishers feel squeezed out.
"Only a small percentage of water is fishable at any one time," says Macindoe. "Much of it is deep, it's inaccessible or it is degraded harbours."
Ingram says the Government doesn't need reserves to protect marine biodiversity - it has all the tools it needs in fisheries legislation, customary rights and the ability to ban the harvesting of individual species.
But then fishers would say that, wouldn't they? What is interesting is that conservationists and marine scientists are beginning to question whether more reserves will achieve the Government's aim of preserving biodiversity. And, in the absence of evidence that stocks are threatened by overfishing, are they necessary at all?
By far the biggest threat to biodiversity is siltation and sediment build-up from land use runoff, says diving enthusiast Dr Floor Anthoni. The "marine naturalist" has observed degradation and habitat loss at coastal marine reserves, from Leigh to Milford Sound, caused by sedimentation.
Even the outer Barrier has been degraded, by a silt-laden current from the inner gulf.
"For marine reserves to work, you must take these threats away. A controlled amount of fishing is absolutely no threat to biodiversity. We are suffering from a marine biodiversity strategy which is totally flawed."
Anthoni, who runs the Leigh-based Seafriends marine education centre and website, concedes his views on the success of marine reserves are not shared by all.
But no one disputes the sedimentation issue, which he says is not being monitored. "We can only save the sea by saving the land."
DoC's Rob McCallum acknowledges that runoff is a major cause of habitat loss, "but surely the solution is to fix all of these problems, not use one as an excuse not to deal with the rest".
Fishing tends to remove the largest individuals first and reserves allow big fish to continue breeding, he says. But Anthoni and Macindoe say that won't happen at the Barrier - for instance, snapper breed in the mid-gulf.
"They haven't done any analysis of the risks and threats and what we are catching," says Macindoe. "It's intentional process failure."
Todd Sylvester, a fisheries analyst with the Ministry of Fisheries, says since their 1980s nadir, snapper stocks in the Hauraki Gulf have recovered well under the quota management system.
"You don't need marine reserves to sustainably manage a snapper fishery. If you want to manage sustainability you figure out the sustainable yield and make sure you don't exceed it.
"What has happened with the build-up of crayfish at Leigh is fantastic but how beneficial it is to overall stocks is very dubious."
McCallum counters that marine reserves are not intended as a fisheries management tool. "We are not saying there should be a marine reserve [at Barrier] because fish stocks are depleted. We are saying that at Great Barrier there is a spectacular underwater ecosystem that extends out to the 12-mile limit."
Another attraction is the Barrier's relative accessibility - people can go there and enjoy it.
But livelihoods are at stake, says Leigh Fishermen's Association vice-president Eddie Watts. Families who have fished the area for generations will have nowhere to go.
"There is a certain etiquette out there - you can't go encroaching on someone else's patch."
Watts has fished for snapper, hapuku and grouper off the Barrier for 36 years. "People say it wasn't like this when their father was fishing. Well, when my father was fishing, it wasn't as good as it is now."
"Doc needs to talk to user groups to see what is really going on out there - it is totally different from what they are saying. The quota system is working."
But inshore at Tiritiri, the Underwater Association's Peter Crabb says overfishing of snapper has allowed kina to flourish, causing loss of kelp and increased silt buildup. "People say there is nothing there to look at, but if you talk to people who dived there in the 1950s, it was fantastic."
Quotas and bag limits look at individual species, not the whole ecology, says Crabb. Recovery could happen quickly if a "no take" reserve is established.
The big guns in commercial fishing are not yet as vocal as the recreational sector but will choose their moment to strike.
"Once this thing hits the road properly they are going to get absolutely monstered," says Moana Pacific's Bruce Young.
"Everywhere they pick there is commercial fishing - I think it is quite overt.
"They are moving commercial fishing over the horizon - most of us will be pulling our money out of New Zealand and telling the Crown to get stuffed."
The fishers' stance is at least in part based on DoC's track record in reserve battles at the Poor Knights, Te Makutu, off Waiheke, and the Volkner Rocks in Bay of Plenty.
Consultation on the Barrier proposal has raised the same charges of misleading information, lack of consultation and misrepresentation of support.
"They are very devious and dishonest," says Young. "How many people who fish off the Barrier actually live on the Barrier?"
But McCallum says the issue of how directly people are affected is crucial to proposals. "So having thousands of submissions from fishers around the country who disagree in principle is given an entirely different weight to someone who has lived on the island for several generations and relies on the island waters to catch fish because there is no supermarket."
He says it is also hard to give the same weight to Auckland boaties who claim their right to fish is affected when, to get to the Barrier, "they drive 60-odd nautical miles over an environment that is not protected".
"It is not about who makes the most noise. It's about who is most affected and who contributes to shaping the proposal."
McCallum makes no apologies for helping other groups to prepare applications. DoC is the Government's advocate for increasing marine conservation in New Zealand. The process is complicated and it's no good getting several years down the track and having to start again because a mistake has been made.
But recreational fishers don't have the same access to the public purse. Marine scientist John Holdsworth is preparing a submission for the the Big Game Fishing Council for future marine reserve proposals, "so we don't have to start from scratch all the time". "The new act says anyone can put up a proposal of any size anywhere at any time. It's scary."
Tutukaka-based Holdsworth says proposals keep targeting offshore islands and headlands with deep water and shelter - prime fishing grounds - whereas the biodiversity strategy calls for a cross-section of habitat types to be protected.
"DoC has this idea of linking land reserves with marine reserves, and just about all the offshore islands are in DoC hands. We need a co-ordinated response to establish where the right and wrong places are for marine reserves."
Chris Carter says co-ordination will improve under the new legislation. Niwa and the Ministry for the Environment are working on new ways to grade marine environments and identify vulnerable areas. But there is no need to stall applications in the meantime.
"The coastal waters are the ecosystems in New Zealand that are most at risk and I don't want to see our oceans ending up like the North Sea - devoid of fish.
"But I don't accept that there's suddenly a plan by Government to grab the coast for protection."