Otago marine reserves planning has 'failed'

3:53 pm on 7 March 2018

The group set up to get agreement for the first marine reserves on the Otago coast has failed to get consensus and handed in two different plans.

There are currently no marine protected areas on the south-east coast of the South Island, although the East Coast Taiapure local fishery at Karitane controls the take of shellfish and fish as part of an effort to secure a long term sustainable fishery.

There are currently no marine protected areas on the south-east coast of the South Island. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Representatives of the fishing industry and environmental lobby say the process has failed and they are bitterly disappointed with the outcome.

The South-East Marine Protection Forum has been meeting for four years to identify areas to protect on the coast between Timaru and Waipapa Point in Southland.

The ministers of Fisheries and Conservation released the forum's 312 page final report this afternoon.

The ministers said they have not made any decisions and will be carefully considering the recommendations.

The process was begun in October 2013 by then-Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

The report spells out two separate proposals, one by the environmental and tourism representatives to protect 14 percent of the coastline (covering 1267sq/km), and the other led by the commercial fishing industry for 4 percent (366sq/km) of the coast.

Neither proposal meets the aim set for the forum of reaching a single proposal to protect parts of all the marine habitats found along the coast, though the first, dubbed Network 1, is much closer.

Ngāi Tahu representatives said they do not oppose either proposal, though they have vetoed a marine reserve proposed for Irihuka or Long Point, leaving the Catlins coast without any marine protection.

'The process has failed'

Forest and Bird had a representative inside the room for the many weeks of heated debate but its marine advocate Anton van Helden said the process has failed.

Neither of the two proposals met the goal of providing a connected network of marine protection or proper protection for all marine habitats, Mr van Helden said.

He was particularly critical of the lack of new marine protection for the Catlins, the bottom third of the coastline.

Some of the reserves proposed were excellent, he said, and among the largest around mainland New Zealand, but what was delivered was very disappointing.

Otago Rock Lobster industry association chief executive Simon Gilmour, who was on the forum as a commercial fishing representative, said the report was very disappointing.

"We got railroaded into this process of identifying the habitats, and putting a marine reserve around them, and in the end we're not achieving anything," Mr Gilmour said.

The Network 1 proposal would be detrimental to the coast because it would close areas and put more fishing pressure on the remaining areas with nothing in return, he said.

Harpoon attempt by fishing industry

The commercial fishing industry is so unhappy it tried to stop the report being released.

After the report had been submitted to the ministers, the industry tried to harpoon it by writing to them asking for a review of the process.

Mr Gilmour said the report was biased and did not fairly represent the industry's proposal Network 2, because it excluded the significant protected areas already in place though mataitai (tangata whenua managed), set net closures, voluntary trawling and the quota management system.

But many of the forum's members said they believed that trying to stop the report being released undermined the process.

The forum's chairperson, Maree Baker-Galloway, said it was "surprising and disappointing, and came out of the blue for the rest of us".

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