place, wrong reasons for marine reserve
article was originally published in the Otago Daily Times 10 March
THE next few months, the Department of Conservation will
formally lodge an application to establish a marine reserve
covering the coastal waters adjacent to Nugget Point. The
first attempt by Doc to push through this application in
1992 received an extremely hostile reception from the majority
obfuscation and deceit split the local community. Opposition
to the reserve proposal reached the point where a public
protest in the form of a street march made national television.
The department quietly shelved the application because of
the community outcry.
Local commercial fishers
who fought the original application are dismayed to see it resurrected
when they thought it dead and buried. Now, 13 years on, what has
A new Minister of Conservation
keen to protect marine bio-diversity and armed with $10 million
of taxpayers' money to carry through an agenda which includes
creating an interconnected network of marine reserves around our
An area Conservation
Board which will not take "no" for an answer, and the Dunedin
office of the Department of Conservation which considers that
circumstances have changed enough that South Otago locals will
now embrace the idea of a marine reserve in their backyard.
Fuelling this is the
Government strategy to have 10% of New Zealand's marine area under
protection by 2010. To Doc, the only means of achieving this is
the implementation of completely closed areas - marine reserves.
They refuse to consider other options.
However, the fishing
industry position today is consistent with its position in 1992.
Establishment of a marine reserve can only destabilise fisheries
that are now sustainable and of considerable economic benefit
to the region. None of the supposed benefits offered by a reserve
can mitigate the cost that will be borne by the fishing industries
based around the Otago coastline.
Property rights, in the
form of Individual Transferable Quota for commercial fish species,
are clearly and legally defined in New Zealand. Implicit within
the introduction of quotas is the right that commercial fishers
will have access to fishing grounds and the expectation that quotas
can be filled from within quota management areas of specific size.
There is a simple, inexorable
arithmetic which attends the establishment of a marine reserve.
If you subtract a stretch of the most productive coastline available
to commercial, recreational and customary fishers, then the quantity
of fish normally caught in that area must come out of the remaining
smaller area of coast. As fishing effort in the remaining area
is increased, catches decline because fish populations are reduced
and the potential for overfishing increases.
So, marine reserves can
be counterproductive where fisheries management is concerned.
The Ministry of Fisheries is then left to try and tidy up the
mess as conflict between the fishing sectors increases. The first
step taken is to reduce commercial quotas.
Any reduction in quotas
due to reduced access to productive fishing grounds is considered
by the commercial fishing industry to be an imposition on property
Another way to look at
the situation is to imagine a farm that is economically viable
and where all of the available area is being maximised by the
farmer. Suddenly, he is told that 10% of his farm is to be removed,
without compensation, but it is up to him to continue to farm
to the same level of economic viability.
This effect is well understood
by Doc, but the fact is the department does not really care. After
all, the flow-on effects are someone else's problem and the resultant
costs are borne by others.
The income and capital
losses to the fishing industry and the community, should the reserve
be established, will be considerable. A case in point is the commercial
paua fishery around Nugget Point.
This very productive
area supplies nearly 10% of the commercial paua catch for the
south-east coastal area. Should a reserve be established there,
then the consequent concentration of fishing effort in the remaining
area will inevitably lead to the Minister of Fisheries reducing
the commercial catch proportionately to protect fish stocks.
The immediate capital
cost to industry would be about $2.5 million, with annual earnings
losses of about $300,000 at today's market prices. And to make
up for those losses, what does Doc's reserve offer by way of mitigation?
Well, very little actually.
There is no demonstrable
"seeding effect" of paua from a closed piece of coast to adjoining
areas. There are many parts of the coastline closed to fishing
and none of them have ever been shown to act as nurseries to restock
adjoining areas. Paua spawn and settle mainly in their immediate
The value of having areas
unfished as scientific reference points for study is moot, considering
there is already a number of closed areas that can be used for
this purpose. The price of such unfished scientific study areas
is the destructive overfishing of adjoining fish populations -
which the studies were meant to help avoid in the first place.
In any case, about 40%
of the south-east coastline is already closed to commercial paua
fishing and all of the coast from immediately south of Nugget
Point down to Long Point is closed to commercial rock lobster
fishing. The Nugget Point area produces up to 10% of the total
Otago rock lobster catch and this is worth about $150,000 annually.
interests will be similarly affected. There are, of course, losses
to downstream industries such as factories, canneries and service
industries which mean the real costs are much more.
There is also the social
cost where locally resident fishermen find their businesses are
rendered uneconomic and are forced to travel further and, in some
cases, fish more dangerous waters.
Clearly, the commercial
fishing community will have little choice but to oppose the marine
reserve application. Our opposition to the establishment of a
reserve at Nugget Point is shared by all the recreational fishing
groups in the area, Ngai Tahu and most of the local community,
and for good reason. The Nuggets has easy access from the shore
and is ideal for families wishing to harvest seafood, with the
north side being especially good, as it is sheltered from the
Maori also prize this
area of coast for gathering kaimoana. Additionally, it is the
best local source of bull kelp, prized by muttonbirders for making
kelp bags, or poha.
All groups also understand
that there are wider issues involved. The Labour-led Government
is fixated with the idea that marine reserves are the only way
to protect biodiversity and fish populations. Their officials
have persuaded them that some sort of crisis looms for our marine
New Zealand has some
of the best fishery protection and environmental law in the world.
The steady stream of visiting fisheries experts keen to study
New Zealand marine environmental management is testament to the
fact. However, the Labour Party, through Doc, is already quietly
putting in place the tools it needs to carry through its predetermined
ideology. To smooth out Doc's task, a new Marine Reserves Act
is soon to be enacted which essentially will allow the Minister
for Conservation a free hand to establish such reserves whenever
and wherever he likes, the only constraint being that he has to
"have regard to" the impact on those affected.
Worse still, there is
ample evidence that this is actually seen as a starting point.
Influential groups such as Forest and Bird, with whose views most
of the vocal supporters of the Nugget Point application subscribe,
promote 30% of New Zealand's marine environment as being the "ideal"
area to set aside. In the case of the Nuggets, Forest and Bird
is demanding a substantial size increase to the boundaries.
The commercial fishing
industry is not absolutely opposed to the establishment of marine
reserves. It is not widely known that the two existing marine
reserves in Fiordland were proposed and promoted by the fishing
industry. Why? Because they are in the right places for the right
Nugget Point marine area
has been fished since New Zealand was first inhabited. Doc and
the Minister of Conservation, without any tangible evidence of
positive effects, want to eliminate an important part of our heritage,
that is, the ability of all fishers, customary, recreational or
commercial, to exercise and enjoy their rights to continue to
fish in the area.
The commercial stakeholder
organisations are Paua 5 Management Area Council Inc., Otago Rock
Lobster Industry Association Inc., and South-East Finfish Co.