article was originally published in the Otago Daily Times 1 February
ALMOST WHEREVER they have
been introduced, marine reserves have tended to divide public
opinion. The small South Otago coastal township of Kaka Point,
which sits near the proposed Nuggets-Tokata marine reserve, is
no exception. The debate has hung over the former commercial fishing
village like a stalled southerly squall for more than a decade.
Once and for all, it is time the air was cleared and the issue
Some in the community
are vehemently opposed to the marine reserve. More than a few,
no doubt, see no need for marine reserves at all and are unimpressed
by the sometimes profound turnaround in sea life that has occurred
in the older of New Zealand's 20 or so existing marine reserves.
Others are not opposed to the idea but say the reserve proposal
is simply in the wrong spot. They argue fish-harbouring reefs
in the area are scattered and so it is inaccurate to claim stocks
of blue cod would increase by imposing a reserve. Shellfish, they
say, are plentiful except for paua and the shortage of paua would
be addressed by adjusting quota rather than banning the taking
of all shellfish. Besides, they contend, many other factors, such
as run-off and other pollution, have affected sea life.
Although there may be
some truth in some of these arguments, the weight of scientific
opinion is in favour of the Nuggets site and is adamant that sea
life will be bolstered by complete protection, which should include
protection from pollution as well as from fishing. Experts also
believe the increase in fish stocks will spill over to areas outside
the reserve, as has happened at other sites. The wild and unpredictable
nature of the area makes it unlikely as a tourist spot, but reserve
proponents point to the added benefits flourishing and diverse
sea life provides even from shore.
The Otago Conservation
Board is certainly convinced and has continued to urge the Department
of Conservation, which cares for and manages the reserves, to
make a fresh application to the Government. While local opinion
is said to be some 60% against a marine reserve, the board, a
statutory body representing the community, claims to have wide
public support - support which, over the next few months, will
be tested as the department conducts a public consultation process
before deciding whether to make a marine reserve application.
In its simplest terms,
the argument boils down to one between the fishing lobby's belief
in its right to fish and conservationists' attempts to protect
marine areas of special significance, much in the same way as
national parks have been established. Some might reasonably wonder
whether there is also a certain "not in my backyard mentality"
as well as antipathy towards Doc involved. Nevertheless, the Nuggets
debate comes amid Government revision of marine reserves legislation
and its commitment to protecting 10% of New Zealand's 370km-wide
Economic Exclusion Zone, the fourth largest marine zone in the
world. It also comes amid growing world-wide recognition that
if over-fishing and other destructive human practices continue,
the world's most valued fish stocks cannot last.
In its 1995 report on
the state of the world's fisheries, the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organisation stated that, at the start of the 1990s,
69% of the world's conventional species were either fully exploited,
over-exploited, depleted or rebuilding from a depleted state.
And it is not just commercial fishing that is to blame. A Canadian
report last year estimated that 11.5% of the world's population
fishes for recreation, catching about 47 million fish, or 11 million
tonnes, a year - about one-eighth of the commercial fish take.
This may all seem a long way from the Nuggets and Kaka Point,
but such statistics should serve as a warning that no-one can
afford to be complacent about the ability of the world's oceans
to forever reproduce a multitude of marine life. There are other
options besides a marine reserve that would not totally ban recreational
fishing. But excluding fishing from a relatively small area seems
a minor sacrifice compared to the expected benefits.