New Mimiwhangata Study Questioned
13 July 2006
This article was originally
published in the Northern Advocate 13th July 2006
A new study showing dwindling crayfish numbers around Mimiwhangata is fuelling calls for the marine park to become a full marine reserve. But opponents say that would take away a safe fishing spot that has plenty of life left, and that there are better ways to manage the area.
Biologist Vince Kerr, co-author of a report using data collected over three decades, reckons Mimiwhangata's history, topography and position make it perfect for a reserve.
He has compared crayfish numbers at restricted Mimiwhangata Marine Park with the more bountiful no-take Tawharanui Marine Park further south, and says the partial protection regime at Mimiwhangata has not worked. Recreational fishing has left levels low, and the area needs full marine reserve status, he says.
Charter boat operator Mike Austin disagrees. He runs Oakura Bay Cruises, and he's no fan of marine reserves, especially at Mimiwhangata. ”I'm dead against it and always have been on a safety angle. If it's rough weather, the Mimiwhangata area is one of the only places to go,'' he said. ”If you close that right down there'll be boats taking unnecessary risks.''
Mr Kerr doesn't think safety should come into it: “All boat owners are responsible for safety. I can't imagine a marine reserve is ever going to kill anyone.''
Mr Kerr's colleague, Roger Grace, started counting crays in the area in the 1970s, and their report says numbers at Mimiwhangata have declined drastically despite commercial, long-line and net fishing bans. Fewer crayfish means more kina, which in turn munch on kelp. Mr Kerr says regulating gear or catch limits won't cut it:
“There's things you can achieve with closed areas that you can't achieve with limiting catches. The reality is that it's very hard to have localised catch limits... and it's hard to have 100 different rules across the country.''
Mr Austin reckons snapper catch and size limits need to change, and the crayfish limit should be cut from six to three per person. While Mr Austin tells of locals free-diving for crays, and says there are still plenty of good fish out there, Mr Kerr says there'd be many more if they were left alone.
”In the fully no-take area at Tawharanui there are roughly 10 times as many crays as at Mimiwhangata, and 25 times the biomass [total weight of crayfish],'' said Mr Kerr.
Mr Austin puts the decline down to city and farm run-off poisoning fish life at Mimiwhangata.
Mr Kerr disagrees. ”There's no scientific evidence to back that up at all,'' said Mr Kerr.
Mimiwhangata was made a marine park in 1984, primarily because of the wide variety of habitats and marine life. Since then, comparisons of fish numbers inside the park with spots outside and other marine reserves showed numbers were not increasing due to continued recreational fishing.
In 2004, the Department of Conservation called for Mimiwhangata Marine Park to be turned into a full marine reserve. Community consultation and discussion documents followed, and more than 1100 submissions were received. The reserve bid is on hold, at least until the end of the year. A new DOC strategy means Northland will be looked at as a whole.
Mr Kerr says act now, before it's too late. “Crayfish need a network of protection. We just need to get on with it.''
An holistic alternative
Guardians of Mimiwhangata's Fisheries and Marine Environment is a local lobby group keen on fisheries management tools as an alternative to the marine reserve proposal.
Bruce Galloway, who owns property at Teal Bay and is a partner at Auckland law firm Kensington Swan, is chairman. Mike Austin and fellow Oakura resident Vern Tonks are also involved.
The Mimiwhangata Guardians are working closely with tangata whenua to have the practice of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) introduced to manage Mimiwhangata's fisheries and marine environment.
"Kaitiakitanga has a great history of successful use by tangata whenua over hundreds of years to care for the environment," said Mr Galloway. He talks of kaitiakitanga's flexibility (with rahui, or temporary bans, if fish stocks need to be improved), its inclusivity and social and cultural focus, encouraging communities to work together. It would allow the Crown to fulfil Treaty obligations, and - unlike a marine reserve - would allow "conservation without confiscation".
By contrast, says Mr Galloway, a reserve provides areas for scientific study, and doesn't address land run-off or fishing practices.
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