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Nugget Point Feb 2005

Troubled waters


This article was originally published in the Otago Daily Times 1 February 2005

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 settled.

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.



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