Fishing – How many fish in the sea?

There is a fair bit of talk around the traps lately regarding the proposed marine reserves in our area and in The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Many people don’t know that the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park covers 1.2 million hectares of sea, including the Hauraki Gulf, the Waitemata Harbour, Firth of Thames and the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Within its boundaries are five marine reserves already and the internationally recognised wetland at Miranda in the Firth of Thames.

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act establishes some overall objectives for the Gulf and its islands and catchments. Their purpose is to achieve integrated management across land and sea, so that the effects of urban and rural land use on the gulf are given proper attention and the life supporting capacity of the gulf is protected. The Act provides for integrated management of the gulf across 21 statutes, including the Resource Management Act, Conservation Act and Fisheries Act. The Hauraki Gulf Forum represents all local authorities adjoining the gulf or its catchments, and includes representatives of the Ministers of Conservation, Fisheries and Maori Affairs, together with six representatives from local iwi. It is charged with integrating management of the gulf through cooperation and better communication.

As part of this management plan there are marine protected areas proposed for the Gulf and more importantly marine reserves that will directly affect local fishers and boaties around our coast. The act plans to eventually ban certain commercial fishing methods and reviewing the way fish stocks are managed, create 13 new marine reserves and allows for the expansion of marine farming.

Now we all want more fish in the sea but it is well documented that marine reserves won’t save the oceans. Sure they lock up a tiny part of the ocean, protect that part of the seabed and some of the animals living there but it is not an effective enough tool to restore fish stocks.

So what will work? It’s very hard to manage a farm when you don’t know how many cows you have and the same applies to the Hauraki Gulf or any fishery. We need solid science and a robust stock assessment. It has been touted that recreational fishing earns the country immense value and this is true but it’s only flag waving really and not increasing fish stocks. Only when we know better just what state the fishery is in can we make decisions on the Gulf’s future, access and recreational and commercial take.

Sounds easy, right, but sadly there isn’t the funding there to undertake such a task and it doesn’t look like our current government is going make any commitment towards it either. Commercial and recreational fishers are at the mercy of the current regime and seemingly at loggerheads with each other which, again, is unproductive.

As the population swells and the demand for fresh fish and seafood increases any new regulations will need to be adaptive and the placement and formation of marine reserves will need to be very carefully thought out. Locking up handkerchief size areas of coastline or inshore islands, restricting access and customary and historical recreational take is not something to be taken lightly and we can only hope that the public consultation process is sound and thorough so we can all benefit from a healthy fishery.
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