There was a lot of interest in submissions on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill recently with more than 60 people packing out a select committee room at Parliament.
The Green Party supports the Bill. We need to keep parts of our oceans for nature, free from fishing, mining and drilling and other exploitation. The extraordinary underwater geology, habitats and marine life in the Kermadec region is of global significance and deserves protection.
Fishing interests such as Aotearoa Fisheries, Te Ohu Kaimoana, and Seafood New Zealand called for the bill to be withdrawn or put on hold, while still claiming to support marine protection. Fishing companies are pushing for financial compensation from Government if the Bill proceeds, in an attempt to increase their property rights around fishing quota and entrench a precedent for compensation ahead of wider changes to our marine protection laws.
Holding quota gives fishers a right to go fishing, subject to Government management controls. It’s not a right to fish everywhere all of the time. Nor does it give quota holders, private ownership of all the fish in the sea, so there is no legal basis for compensation when marine protected areas, such as the Kermadec Sanctuary restrict access to some sea space and fishing area.
As part of the industry push for compensation, a fishing industry lawyer told the select committee that the Kermadec sanctuary is a “utilisation” rather than a “sustainability” measure by government, which is like saying that blue is green and black is white.
The Government should not give into such self-serving industry lobbying. Doing so would make establishing future marine reserves and protected areas difficult because of the cost such compensation to government.
The fishing industry also claimed that the Kermadec Sanctuary is not consistent with New Zealand’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Barrister and former diplomat, Bill Mansfield who negotiated the provisions in UNCLOS had a very different view. He said that New Zealand choosing not to exploit all of our EEZ was entirely consistent with the “preserve and protect” obligations in UNCLOS. Given increasing concern about “the health of the oceans and declining world fish stocks, coastal states which have had such a large exclusive economic zone must step up to the mark,” and provide leadership, he said.
Bill Mansfield said New Zealanders needed to be conscious of how much we have benefited from exclusive economic zones being based on coastline, rather than population as many large states had wanted when EEZs were negotiated in the 1980s. New Zealand is one of the world’s smallest countries and yet has one of the world’s largest EEZs because of our many islands.
And, we need to establish new “no take” marine protected areas like the Kermadec Sanctuary in our oceans to give our fish stocks and the amazing marine life in the Kermadecs the opportunity to thrive.
Fishing interests argued that Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs) – which protect the seabed by prohibiting destructive bottom trawling – are all that’s needed for marine protection in our oceans. Yet BPAs don’t protect against seabed mining or oil drilling, and don’t prohibit midwater trawling or long line fishing above the seabed. ECO’s Cath Wallace described BPAs as “Bogus Protection Areas” because they covered areas that the industry identified which were not heavily fished. BPAs have limited conservation value for biodiversity.
Relying on BPAs would ignore New Zealand’s poor performance in protecting representative examples of marine bioregions. As the Ministry for the Environment told the Minister in June 2015, “New Zealand’s current marine protection is well below average when compared to international standards and the performance of other countries, notably Australia and the United States.”
The Kermadecs are part of the largest volcanic arc in the world with a dramatic underwater seascape of volcanoes and active hydrothermal vents. The proposed ocean sanctuary includes part of the second deepest ocean trench in the world (up to 10 km deep in places) with animals which are adapted to the extreme pressures which exist at depth and which scientists are only just beginning to describe and name.
Given the global significance of the Kermadec region, the fishing industry’s opposition to the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary suggests its commitment to sustainability principles is either insincere or superficial and that maximising short-term exploitation remains the dominant objective.