Dare I say it, but the current proposal looks like a chart with a bunch of band aids added ad hoc. It looks like the work of a bunch of people who could not agree on how to make the Hauraki Gulf a sustainable resource which will support the well-being of the seafloor, fish, mammals, bird species and humans that call the Hauraki Gulf their home or playground.
At a glance, it appears as though a few areas have been made into large reserves or protected areas to tick a few political boxes or agendas, with very little or any scientific or practical research completed to back up the plan.
For over 20 years I have made my living from the ocean as a professional fishing guide and charter operator. I am proud to run a family-owned, sustainable fishing charter operation and lodge out of Mangawhai and even prouder to know there are many more operators just like me in the wider Hauraki Gulf.
As a fisherman, I have a strong love and respect for the ocean and marine environment. For a lot of people, being on the ocean is their only way to connect with the world and reduce stress and anxiety, and our adventures at sea are a great way to connect with family and friends.
Spending so much of my life on or around the sea, I’ve seen conservation practices that work, as well as ones that end up having a negative impact on the environment. You learn the movement and paths fish and marine mammals take during the different seasons.
When the Sea Change plan became public, I was interested to see what it looked like and excited to see how it was going to transform the Hauraki Gulf so it has a sustainable future for all. It did not take much reading to see some fundamental flaws with the plan, and the overall result falls way short of the intended goal of looking after the Hauraki Gulf for generations to come. Any good fisherman knows that having a healthy marine environment starts with having a good bait supply and a healthy sea floor, so let’s see if Sea Change has factored this into their findings.
Here is a list of flaws I see with the plan:
• Commercial purse seining will still be allowed, putting more pressure on the vulnerable bait supplies that feed the Hauraki Gulf.
• Destructive methods like commercial trawling and scallop dredging are still allowed. Trawling is going to be restricted to “Trawling Corridors”, but looking at the locations of the “High Protection Areas” and “Sea Floor Protection Areas”, the commercial fleet will most likely not be affected and remain trawling the same areas as they currently do.
• The plan is more focused on locking up areas as opposed to managing them. The ‘throw away the key’ principle only adds more pressure on the areas that surround these reserves.
• High Protection Area 1 looks more like a real estate grab to increase the marine reserve percentage for someone’s personal agenda. This area gets some recreational pressure along the northern coastline of Little Barrier but go a mile offshore and there is no recreational or commercial fishing pressure, so why does it need to be a reserve?
• High Protection Area 8A is protected by the weather and its distance from shore, which reduces recreational fishing to realistically 100 days a year. If you go out to the Mokohinau Islands during the week on a nice day you would be lucky to see 5-6 boats maximum in the entire island group. Areas 7A, 9A and 9B would fall into the same category.
• It is interesting that there is no high protection or seafloor protection areas at Great Barrier Island, yet Great Barrier would get more fishing pressure than places like the Mokohinau and Aldermen Islands.
• The Hauraki Gulf remains in the Snapper 1 (SNA1) quota management area (North Cape to East Cape), which makes it difficult to manage the number of fish commercially caught in the Hauraki Gulf area. In the greater SNA1 region, there are so many different types of environments and areas with different needs, yet the same rules apply over its entirety. To rebuild a better environment, this large region needs to be broken down into smaller areas and looked at on a case-by-case scenario. Only once this is done can you start to manage specific areas for the future.
• The Hen and Chicken Islands and the Bream Bay/Bream Head area have been excluded in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. This area is going to be the big loser as more commercial pressure will be put on purse seining and trawling there. This is one of the corridors where bait moves into the gulf and an area where Bryde’s whales, dolphins and the rare false killer whales all move around feeding on bait. In the last three years we have seen more mammals feeding in this area than ever before, and it’s vital for holding the bait that moves into the Hauraki Gulf. If the current plan goes ahead, this area will be in trouble.
• The recreational fishermen will be the big losers from this current plan. Safe areas for small boats to fish to provide kaimoana for their families have been ‘locked up’, meaning there are less opportunities for boaties who can’t afford 6m plus craft to safely catch a feed.
• World class fisheries like the Mokohinau and Alderman Islands have been locked up. Visiting anglers, both domestic and overseas, come to these bucket list destinations and invest money into the local economy via charter boats, accommodation, and food providers, to name but a few. These world class fisheries could be lost forever under the current proposed plan, yet with simple management they could remain sustainable forever.
So, back to mine and a bunch of other local charter operators’ business plans. A typical pre-COVID year sees over 60% of our customers come from overseas, with Australian visitors being the most prevalent.
Groups will fly in, rent vehicles, stay in either lodges, campgrounds, motels, or rental accommodation. They will eat at our local restaurants, buy fishing tackle from our local stores and go home with souvenirs and products from our local shops.
The fish they catch on a typical charter are only eaten during their stay and the rest are released under a careful process. On a typical 4-5 day fishing trip, a group of four overseas anglers will spend approximately $18,000 NZD, with approximate 30kg of kingfish and 12kg of snapper killed on the trip. When you convert the cost of this Kiwi fishing adventure and divide it by the kilo of whole fish extracted, it works out to be over $400 per kilo of green fish. This practice is fully sustainable and the money going into to local businesses and communities is new money coming into New Zealand.
• Ban all destructive and non-sustainable fishing methods like scallop dredging and bottom trawling. A huge emphasis needs to be put on the rebuild of the seafloor that has been damaged from decades of destructive commercial fishing methods. A lot of progressive commercial fisherman that are line catching fish shake their head at the destructive process that is trawling. So, we have pretty much all the public and even a part of the commercial sector disagreeing with bottom trawling and dredging – why is it still allowed to happen?
• Ban purse seining in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, protecting our marine mammals, sea birds and fish species, along with the bait supplies that are an integral part of the food chain.
• Extend the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park to Whangarei Heads to help save the corridors where our baitfish, whales, dolphins, false killer whales and popular fish species travel and feed.
• Instead of “locking areas up”, these same areas could be ring fenced and made into specific protection areas, with specific rules put in place that are designed to help these places of interest. For example, if the seafloor needs time to repair, then ban all anchoring. If a certain species is needing help, then ban or reduce the catch limit in that area, encourage the use of specific hooks to reduce the damage to released fish, and so on. These proactive practices will also educate people at the same time, creating a sustainable ‘new normal’.
• Recreational fishermen may be happy to take cuts in their daily bag limits if the above was sorted and the state of the fishery was sustainable.
• Could possible fishing bans at spawning times for certain species be feasible? A “Code of Conduct” or “Constitution” could put in place clear objectives and guidelines for future generations to follow. These could be:
Build and maintain a sustainable and healthy marine environment.
Put the necessary emphasis on maintaining a healthy seafloor.
Replenish fish stocks to a sustainable level.
Clean up the water ways that lead into the Hauraki Gulf.
Respect the rights for Kiwis to fish and gather seafood in a sensible, sustainable way.
To add value to the commercial fishing sector through sustainable non-destructive fishing methods.
Build a world class fishery to promote sustainable tourism, adding valuable dollars and jobs into local communities.
Manage, monitor and research to react quickly to an ever-changing environment.
If you look over the current plan for revitalising the Hauraki Gulf, you will see Page 9 has a very nice little bullet point list that summarises the aims of Sea Change: “Investment and jobs, and local communities supported, through healthy, reputable and high-value products”.
“Hmm,” I thought. “Surely a fully sustainable charter business that produces a return to the domestic economy of up to $400 per kilo of fish taken would fall into this category?”
I will let you make the decision about whether you think recreational fishermen are the big losers on the current Sea change plan for revitalising the Hauraki Gulf.
Nice try DoC, MPI and Fisheries New Zealand, but I think this really shows some holes in your planning and ability to look after our marine environment for the future.
The one point that I would really like to get out there is that if MPI and Fisheries New Zealand think our Quota Management System is ‘world leading’, then why are we even having to create marine parks to fix the issues they have clearly missed?
It is simple: the system has failed and the wolves that have been looking after the sheep have failed us! It’s time for a change!