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option4 Update #43 NZFN June 2004


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Protecting Our Precious Marine Environment

NZ Fishing News
June 2004

 

Protection of the marine environment

If ever there was a time to ride the wave of public awareness for the need to protect our precious marine environment now is the hour. Gone is the alibi of ignorance and obliviousness, stripped away by the information streaming in through every media, never mind our own ability to assess the state of play. Never has the need for protection and "best practise" been more evident.

Why is it then that the tax payer funding for biodiversity has been hijacked by the Department of Conservation who in turn are driving single mindedly down their slavishly narrow perspective of marine reserves – total closure forever, no review period.

The Department seem intent on promoting at every opportunity their spin on the benefits of reserves. There has been little or no effort to discuss/debate the costs of these closures. Dr Floor Anthoni has raised many questions about the science and ideology supporting marine reserves. Why is it that the Department are stonewalling him and the public and refusing to engage in robust, transparent debate on these challenges? In the absence of credible process of debate, the questions and concerns raised remain unanswered, leaving us little option but to take "A better way" as simply that.

As far as cost benefit analysis is concerned, the readily available information is pretty scarce. Lots of feel good promises about what benefits a reserve network might deliver – little or no discussion about the tangible and opportunity costs that reserves will incur.

Quite clearly, the public wish to see a "coordinated and integrated approach to marine protection" given effect. This has been raised time and time again with the Department. We cannot point to any effort on their part to go there – instead all we see is more focus on consultation to implement a network of reserves.

 

Marine Reserves Act

Where does the Department of Conservation derive their mandate to promote marine reserves? The Marine Reserves Act 1971 is about setting aside areas for the purposes of scientific study. There is no mention of biodiversity, habitat management, ecosystem manager, trophic cascades or any of the other talk that permeates the Department's conversation today. Sure, there is a bill before Parliament that will give the Department an almost unfettered ability to implement marine reserves, but that's all it is, a bill. It is not the law of this land.

 

Biodiversity Strategy

DoC are getting their drive from the Biodiversity Strategy. This strategy covers marine protection and mentions marine reserves. There is far more to marine protection than total closure forever by way of marine reserves. It is this point that the Department of Conservation continually refuse to acknowledge.

 

Current marine protection

Various proposals for marine reserves have resulted in an increasingly clear call from the public demanding an integrated and coordinated approach to marine protection taking into account all of the mechanisms at out disposal. Obvious protection mechanisms are cable, shipping and military zones. Equally obvious are fisheries constraints like the Quota Management System (QMS) that applies to the entire EEZ. Within the QMS there are many method constraints that afford very real protection to habitats. What about the incredible potential of customary Maori management that is clearly legislated in the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992? Neither the Department of Conservation nor the Ministry of Fisheries seem sincere in their intent to see these tools given effect nationally.

 

Paterson Inlet

On June 4, the Minister of Conservation announced the establishment of a marine reserve in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island. Before the Minister can establish a marine reserve he has to ask the Ministers of Transport and Fisheries for concurrence, their agreement. To the Minister of Fisheries credit, Pete Hodgson at the time, he asked his Ministry to conduct public meetings and consult on whether he should provide concurrence to this proposal.

In November 2003 option4 provided the Minister of Fisheries with a comprehensive submission on why concurrence should not be given to this application. There has been no attempt by the Minister to answer any of the questions in the submission or acknowledge that the application does not meet the purposes of the Marine Reserves Act.

 

Consultation

The majority of the consultation for this application was conducted between 1993 and 1995 with limited consultation in 1997. It is totally inadequate to use the results of a nine year old consultation round and push ahead with a marine reserve without providing the public adequate opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the process. Over 30,000 people visit Stewart Island every year. The Department of Conservation and MFish made very little attempt to contact these visitors and ask for their input.

 

Process failure

"I don't think anybody should have anything to fear. This is the result of a 10-year-process, good community consultation and the outcomes will ultimately be better use of conservation and the stock for everybody," said David Benson-Pope. option4 disagree. The Minister of Fisheries, by providing his concurrence to this application, is party to another inadequate process that fails to address the all too common problems associated with many marine reserve applications. Inadequate consultation, poor process and lack of intent to engage with existing users of the area will result in an outcome which is flawed and ultimately not what the next generations of New Zealanders deserve as we see these areas locked up forever under DoC control.

It is time for DoC, MFish and any other organisation involved in the marine reserve process to acknowledge the public's desire to protect our marine environment, harness that energy and direct it towards meaningful projects that will enhance our seas so we can all enjoy our respective marine activities.

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