by Gareth Hughes
I recently learned to scuba dive at the Taputeranga Marine Reserve on Wellington’s wild South coast which has given me a whole new appreciation of our marine environment. In contrast to outside the marine reserve, life is flourishing with an abundance of fish, crabs and crayfish. We are so lucky to have places like Taputeranga in Wellington or Goat Island marine reserve, near Auckland, on our back doorsteps to enjoy.
We are a coastal nation with an Exclusive Economic Zone fifteen times larger than our land area and we are a coastal people who work, rest and play on and under the water. For many our waters are our supermarkets, and our playgrounds. Kiwis love our ocean but often when it comes to policy ‘out of sight’ is ‘out of mind.’
A staggering 80% of all the life on Earth is to be found hidden beneath the waves yet our oceans are in crisis. Climate change, acidification, overfishing, pollution, and ocean drilling and mining all imperil the oceans. Today is World Oceans Day and a good chance to celebrate our oceans and reflect on their health.
Humans are slowly yet constantly changing the acidity levels of our oceans through our ever-growing production of carbon dioxide. Our oceans naturally absorb CO2 and the impacts will be devastating: the UN reports that 80% of the world’s coral reefs may die within decades. New Zealand’s Royal Society has warned that our marine life will also be severely affected within decades, impacting on our food supply and jobs.
At the rate we are overfishing our oceans we should get used to replacing the ‘fish’ in fish ‘n chips with jellyfish. We are hammering fish stocks with advanced technology and constantly moving on to other species down the food chain once we’ve depleted one species. It’s like we’ve declared war on fish with all of our technological and industrial might so that when asked the question – ‘where did the fish go?’ the answer is clear – “we’ve eaten them.”
Even fearsome predators sharks aren’t immune, with an estimated 73 million slaughtered each year internationally for the shark-fin trade and some species declining as much as 90%. New Zealand is one of the few developed fishing nations that still allows sharks to be killed just for their fins with their bodies dumped into the ocean, a huge waste, akin to killing elephants for their ivory.
Down in the Southern Ocean in New Zealand waters, the Greens believe in a smart Green economy that delivers prosperity and protects the environment. We want Kiwi fishers kids to be able to make a sustainable livelihood fishing well into the future.
We want to see a vibrant Kiwi fishing industry and that’s why we supported the call for an inquiry into foreign fishing vessels in our waters, many with atrocious records, at Select Committee.
Our sea food industry depends on healthy marine ecosystems but the health of our oceans is under threat from a wide range of sources. One new risk comes from the increased likelihood of deep sea oil drilling. Our Government has given permits to oil companies to explore in areas much deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig that leaked in the Gulf of Mexico, despite lacking adequate resources to respond to a spill. The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association recently admitted that, at present, a beach clean-up is the only practical response to a major spill off the coast of New Zealand. They have no intention of bringing the latest well capping technology to New Zealand and, even if they did, there is no assurance that it will work here.
Acting Minister of Energy and Resources Hekia Parata stated in Parliament recently that a team of 400 emergency response workers is on hand to respond to a spill in New Zealand waters (woefully inadequate given that nearly 50,000 were needed at the peak of the oil leak response in the Gulf of Mexico). An oil spill would devastate the New Zealand sea food industry and would tarnish our clean green image, currently worth an estimated $18 billion. The Green Party is calling for a moratorium on deep water drilling until the industry can demonstrate that it can safely control any leak.
We often hear how ‘sustainable’ New Zealand’s Quota-managed fisheries are, however we are measuring ourselves against a pretty bad global average. The Green Party supports protecting the long-term viability of the sea food industry by promoting sustainable utilisation of fisheries. We would achieve this by moving to integrated marine ecosystem management to ensure that fish populations are maintained at ecologically sustainable levels rather than single species stock management. Furthermore, we would manage all fish stock by maintaining the population which supports the maximum sustainable yield as a minimum, not a target level.
The Green Party strongly supports the creation of more marine reserves. The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (2000) had a goal of 10% of New Zealand’s marine environment in a network of Marine Protected Areas by 2010, and yet, in 2011, we dismally failed and only have only 0.3% in marine reserves. Meanwhile the Minister of Conservation is declining applications like those in Akaroa Harbour. I think this is unacceptable and the public overwhelmingly agrees. A recent Colmar-Brunton survey showed that 96% of New Zealanders think a larger proportion of their oceans should be protected in marine reserves than currently is the case.
This Government meanwhile is pushing an ambitious aquaculture agenda, but has not yet created a marine spatial plan for New Zealand to determine where aquaculture is suitable. I fear we are on the cusp of a massive privitization of our public marine space.
The promotion of fin-fish farming is of particular concern because it can have significant impacts on the marine environment. Most farmed finfish are fed pellets derived from wild fish stocks, and international figures show it can take between four and six tonnes of wild fish to produce one tonne of farmed fish. This poor rate of conversion, localised pollution and the threat of escaped farmed-fish puts further pressure on our already stressed wild fisheries and marine ecosystems.
With the increasing pressure on our oceans and the lack of adequate integrated protection of our marine ecosystems, we need oceans governance reform.
New Zealand currently has no agency responsible for oceans management, no legal framework for marine spatial planning in the EEZ, no EEZ environmental assessment legislation, and no EEZ marine protected areas legislation, and this has to change. We support a Royal Commission on Oceans Governance to investigate and develop recommendations for oceans reform.
Whilst there have been some admirable improvements, the protection of marine mammals and seabirds from the impacts of fishing activity has not been effective. The Marine Mammals Protection Act and the Wildlife Act make provisions for the preparation of population management plans to address fishing-related mortality for mammals and seabirds respectively, yet, no such plans have been completed. (A staggering 62% of our ocean-going seabirds are listed as threatened). Furthermore, under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, marine mammal sanctuaries can be established in the EEZ, but none have been created.
My favourite iconic fish is the Orange Roughy, a deep sea fish living to over 100 years and whose populations have been hammered by bottom trawling. They’ve been fished down to as much as 3% of their original stock levels in some fisheries, and are in long-term decline. I’ve personally seen kiwi fishers throw overboard man-sized ancient corals ripped off the ocean floor in the Tasman Sea, and I am concerned deeply about bottom trawling’s impact on marine ecosystems.
Hoki, one of our largest fisheries, is also struggling and heading the same way as Orange Roughy. Despite this, Hoki are certified as sustainable under the international Marine Stewardship Council. Pretending Hoki are sustainable will not serve the fish or the fishing industry well – continued decline will have massive economic and ecological impacts on New Zealand. Last year Waitrose, the UK supermarket chain used by the royal family, announced it no longer stocked New Zealand caught hoki as it failed to meet the store’s sustainability policy prompting headlines reading ‘No hoki for the Queen.’ A number of international supermarkets now refuse to stock our Orange Roughy.
Sustainability is not a luxury – it is essential to ensure we have a healthy ocean, fish for food, and jobs in the long term. Overfishing now destroys the economy of the future. Killing marine mammals and seabirds unnecessarily puts our valuable ‘clean green brand’ at risk. Nature Magazine assessed New Zealand against the United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries – we scored just 56%. It’s not good enough.
Our ocean is not “out of sight, out of mind”; it is the backyard, the pantry and a source of pride for all New Zealanders. It is not too late to reverse the decline, and it makes economic sense to do so now. Let’s mark World Oceans Day by committing to strong action on climate change, a good Oceans Policy, and making our fisheries truly sustainable.