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Nugget Point Mar 2005

Wrong place, wrong reasons for marine reserve


This article was originally published in the Otago Daily Times 10 March 2005

WITHIN 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 of locals.

Departmental 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 changed:

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 coastline.

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 rights.

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 locality.

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.

Commercial finfishing 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 prevailing south-westerlies.

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 environment.

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 reasons.

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. Ltd.



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