In Pursuit -
Bewitching time is upon us, at least as far as the Volkner Rocks are concerned. After a long, protracted process which initially began in 1985 but in earnest since 1997, the ongoing saga is now drawing into its final stage. The history of this Marine Reserve proposal is complex, to put it mildly. I've recently written two articles on these issues which are due to appear in the next editions of NZ Fishing News and NZ Professional Skipper. For those of you receiving this by email, they are attached for you perusal. If by mail you'll need to see the respective publications as it would be unwieldy to print them, sorry. I'll now give you a brief synopsis of this tirade although brief in this sense is pretty long.
Commercial fishing (mainly for hapuka and bass) around the Volkner Rocks began, as far as I can tell, in the late 60's. There were few boats venturing this far since fishing was excellent much closer to port (Whakatane & Tauranga). Recreational anglers started venturing forth in the early 70's but, once again, the visits were very few and far between. Yours truly arrived on the scene in 1978 and it didn't take long to develop a love affair with productive, distant rocks. While we caught lots of bottomfish and pelagics (yellowfin tuna, marlin and albacore) the main bill a faire was always the regal yellowtail kingfish. Although there are various reef systems around the Volkners, the "south ridge" is by far the most consistent - always has been. Due to its size and diversity this reef holds many ton of kingfish at any given time. From September through February this reef would attract a lot of recreational attentions; an extremely important area.
Recognizing its importance many years ago, we have treated the kingfish stocks with respect and consideration. Conservation has been increasingly high on our list, particularly when it comes to these fantastic gamefish. While we like to (and often do) catch lots of them, we release approximately 85%. Yellowtail are exceedingly important, not only to charter operations such at White Island Marine, but to all recreational anglers and the local economy. We rely heavily upon them, would never (and haven't) abused them and would like to think we've been good guardians of a special species residing in a special place. Accordingly, in 1995, a number of us drew up a Voluntary Code of Practice for kingfish - specifically those which live at White Island and the Volkner Rocks. In 1998 this pact was refined and expanded to take in nearly all the Charterboat fleets from both Whakatane and Tauranga. Interestingly enough most private anglers adhered to the agreement as well. This proactive code has set precedence, which have extended through to the Bay of Islands and is currently being looked at by all the member clubs of the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council encompassing some 38,000 anglers.
DOC has been looking at the area for the establishment of a Marine Reserve for some time. Most all have been supportive of this proposal right up until the final stages of same. All the while I believed that common sense prevail and we'd end up with a very workable situation such as the nearly Mayor Island reserve. There the entire is ringed by a one-mile radius with no commercial fishing, recreational only. Inside this area is a much smaller nil extraction zone which most everyone respects. Unfortunately, the powers to be tell us this form of successful reserve cannot exist in the future due to legislation. That was the first bit of bad news but only just the start long with a number of "anomalies" along the way. Here are just a few bullet points:
- Due to many problems, the reserve focus went from White Island to the Volkner Rocks.
- The composition of the steering committee is nowhere near representative of the users of the area (some have never even been there!).
- The proposed reserve area went from 400 metres to 800 metres and onto one nautical mile (was talk of three miles).
- A questionnaire heavily laced with questions which predisposed the answers.
- An exclusion zone known as Area Y (the south ridge) at the Volkners, set aside for the recreational catch of kingfish only, inexplicably deleted.
- During the last submission round a number of letters shredded (admitted by DOC personnel).
- Statistical data used inappropriately by DOC.
- Genuine lack of research to indicate the need for any reserve at the Volkner Rocks, let alone such a huge one.
I could carry on with a few more issues but I believe there are sufficient to give you an insight to the history of the proposal. Now, you may ask, where do I fit in? Attached (or enclosed) is a "form" letter which I put together. Very short but to the point. I would ask, at the very least, that you sign this and mail to DOC in Rotorua. Better still if you could copy many, or write your own, to be signed by many before the deadline at the end of August. Remember, they must be sent in individually or risk not being counted or worse still, shredded! DOC plays the numbers game petitions and submissions from groups or clubs only count the same as individuals; one. Additionally, DOC work very closely with the Forest and Bird Protection Society. With a mere phone call F&B can mobilize hundreds of submissions, most from people who live a long ways from, and never intend on visiting, the site in question. Jointly they are very powerful but, all the while, going through the required "democratic" process. Scary stuff.
Last I'd like to tell you that despite all this combative talk, I still firmly believe there's a need for a marine reserve(s) at White Island and the Volkner Rocks. Sensible, strategically placed reserves that didn't put huge tracts of ocean off limits to sustainable practices would be welcomed.
So that's it. If you have further questions or need more information please feel free to contact me at any time. Thanks for reading this and, hopefully, acting on all our behalves. The address to send your submissions to is
P O Box 1146