The world’s largest conservation event is being held in Hawaii this week, with marine protection to the fore.
Two motions to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) meeting concerned locking up vast areas of ocean under no-take marine protected areas.
Already reeling from the New Zealand Government’s decision to ban all fishing in 620,000 square kilometres of ocean in the Kermadecs region without consultation, the seafood industry and iwi feared they were about to be Kermadecked again.
The motions called on all member countries to commit to making 30 percent of their waters fully marine protected.
Adding to the alarm was a refusal by the lead agency, the Department of Conservation, to indicate how New Zealand would vote, consistent with the IUCN process.
Seafood NZ, Deepwater Group, Fisheries Inshore NZ and Te Ohu Kaimoana deplored the lack of any consultation and urged the Government not to support the motions, which it did ultimately abstain from.
“Arguments for 30 percent no-take MPAs are arbitrary and non-scientific and ignore opportunities for more appropriate, effective and innovative solutions to conserve biodiversity,” the seafood groups said.
SNZ chair George Clement said there was no good reason to close 30 percent of New Zealand’s EEZ to all use, for all time.
“More than 90 percent has never been touched, so there’s a lot of zone that is pristine.
“If we as a country were to close a lot of that off for posterity, or because it makes them feel good, then we should have an open discussion about that. To date there has been no open discussion.”
Iwi Collective Partnerships general manager Maru Samuels, who is in Hawaii as an observer, said there would be more Kermadecs-type confiscations if the IUCN proposal was adopted.
He said conservation was critical but, so too, was funding from commercial fisheries that was channelled directly to iwi and down to communities dealing with social and health issues.
Maori fought hard to regain their fishing rights and it was disappointing a generation later that the Crown was turning around and taking them away again, Samuels said.
He was given the right to speak to the IUCN meeting and was then confronted by an angry Barry Weeber of the environmental grouping Eco, who prodded him and demanded to know “how dare you” speak for New Zealand.
The demonstration eNGOs think their voice transcends indigenous and industry property rights is telling.
As TOKM chair Jamie Tuuta said at last week’s Seafood NZ conference, as far as Maori are concerned a deal is a deal.
Withdrawal of rights recognised under the 1992 Maori Fisheries Settlement – the Sealord deal - for ideological reasons would be opposed.
Sir Tipene O’Regan, an architect of the deal, said it did not bode well that treaty promises could be trashed at the behest of “a religious movement”.
Prime Minister John Key conceded the Kermadecs process could have been better handled but asked SNZ conference delegates to take a step back and consider what he was trying to do.
He said “what you lose is tiny compared with what you stand to gain” in terms of reputation.
That is a perfectly pragmatic position for a highly successful poll driven government but it is not guided by sustainability or principle.
On the international front the beauty for the major powers in supporting large MPAs promoted by wealthy NGOs like Pew Charitable Trusts is that they can be imposed in remote ocean territories while also serving defence purposes. Thus Johnston and Wake atolls in the Pacific, the two largest no-take MPAs in the world, are administered by US defence agencies keen on monitoring and constraining vessel traffic. Johnston Atoll was the site of nuclear testing and more recently chemical weapons destruction. Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic, centred on another MPA, hosts an airfield shared by UK and US military forces.
New Zealand already has 30 percent of its EEZ dedicated to seabed sanctuaries where trawling and dredging are banned at the industry’s behest a decade ago.
The industry and iwi message is clear. Any moves to further restrict commercial fishing have to be scientifically based and fully consulted on.
- Tim Pankhurst