Oceans Pillage Conference Panned
Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ Inc
P O Box 11-057, Wellington; email eco@reddfish.co.nz; Tel (04) 385-7545
For Tuesday 12 October 1999 - Wellington - Media Release

Oceans Pillage Conference Panned

Environmentalists bearing ninety-three skeletons and seven live fish will greet Jenny Shipley and other Oceans conference goers when they arrive for the conference Oceans Opportunities - The Next Great Economic Frontier at Te Papa in Wellington on Tuesday. 

Jenny Shipley is to launch the conference, which the environmentalists say focuses on mining of oil, gas, other minerals and fish but says little about our responsibilities to the environment. The protest will take place at 8-9am on Tuesday 12th October, at the Te Papa entrance.  It is organised by ECO, Forest and Bird as part of the the  Vote for the Environment campaign.

"Since the fisheries Quota Management System was introduced many fish stocks have declined dramatically. This is especially true of the long lived, slow growing species such as orange roughy and oreos. Two orange roughy populations have been fished down to just 7% of their original size," said Barry Weeber of Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. 

Cath Wallace, marine co-ordinator of the Environment and Conservation Organisations, ECO, said "National's Fisheries Minister John Luxton has fiddled while hundreds of species risk extinction in Spirits Bay and Tom Bowling Bay. Unique underwater life in this area is at risk of imminent extinction according to scientific reports. Minister Luxton has finally agreed to protect a 20 metre depth contour strip - the rest, where the dredgers and trawlers are allowed to continue to operate, remains at risk. Protecting a strip of depth contour is like just protecting a narrow altitude band on a mountain: it does not protect the ecosystem.

"All over the New Zealand territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), there are marine communities at risk and the government has done virtually nothing to give them protection or to implement the environmental provisions of the Fisheries Act. Underwater mountains and hills, known as seamounts are also being damaged and unique marine gardens and forests are being destroyed.

"Fishers trawling for slow growing and long lived species wreck the marine environment  and mine the fish stocks. If the value of the money grows faster than the value of the fish in the sea, then they grab the money and run.

"The government's solution to all this is to ignore these fundamental drivers of environmental damage and to hand over control of fisheries management to the very quota owners who stand to gain from such mining," said Cath Wallace.

"None of the environmental organisations who regularly work on marine issues has been invited to speak. This speaks volumes about the focus of the conference, said Mr Weeber. "In most respects this conference is a conference for exploiters of the marine environment, not for those who want management to ensure that any harvesting is ecologically sustainable.

Environmental groups organising the protest had joined together under as the Vote for the Environment campaign, which aims to bring environmental issues to the forefront in the upcoming election.   Mr Weeber said, "what we and many other voters want is marine management in public control focused on the sea as an ecosystem with public input and control of inputs. We do not want something named integrated management if this is really a cover for handing control to fish and mineral miners."

For further information contact:
ECO, P O Box 11-057, Wellington,  Cath Wallace  (04) 389-1696(h),
(04)463-5713 (w)
Forest and Bird Protection Society, Barry Weeber, (04)385-7374(w); 
Joe Buchanan or Morgan Cox (04)385-7545 (Office).

12 October 1999

Ocean Opportunities:  The Continuing Environmental Failure

Marine management in New Zealand needs urgent revision to refocus it on an ecosystem approach, but the CAE conference, Ocean Opportunities: The Next Great Economic Frontier is a recipe for continuing failure.  Instead of seeing the sea as an ecosystem, its focus is just on mining minerals, fish, tourists and genetic material.

Management of human impacts on the marine environment in New Zealand is fragmented, incoherent, and inconsistent.  It fails to manage the sea as an ecosystem.  The public has virtually no say.  There is no proper environmental management beyond 12 nautical miles.

The government, in a recent change to the Fisheries Act, is intent on handing fisheries management to the fishing industry - which has shown many times that it cannot be trusted with fish stocks, let alone the wider environment.

It is often repeated that New Zealand's quota management system is a success:  but the record shows that this is not the case.  Orange roughy companies have fished until populations of these long lived fish have crashed to as little as 7% of their original size.  Other populations are down well below the legal minimum stock size of that which would give maximum sustainable yield.  Other species have suffered too.

Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and Fisheries Minister John Luxton have presided over a series of fish stock collapses whilst still telling the world that the Quota System is a success.

The truth is that for 68% of the quota system fish stocks, the catch limits set are risky. This is  because either these are set without knowing  the biological productivity of the population or how this compares with the legal target, or the catch limits are set at rates that are twice or more than the rates considered sustainable (these figures are based on the official annual stock assessment data and NIWA's definition of riskiness). For 87% of all the stocks on the Quota Management System the stock status is unknown in relation to the minimum legal stock size, that which would yield the maximum sustainable yield (data from Annala et al, 1999).

The Auckland Islands orange roughy fish population was first fished in 1992. It has only been managed under the quota system.  The population is now 7% of its original size. The Puysegur orange roughy stock is in a similar state.  As well as collapsing the fish populations, the trawlers drown the threatened New Zealand sealion and crush or break myriad marine seamount communities including unique underwater gardens and forests.  Gorgonian coral-like invertebrate animals growing into huge tree-like forms are crushed: one recently  dated by NIWA is revealed to be 500 years old.

The Minister of Fisheries has obligations under the Fisheries Act 1996 to observe international law and to apply environmental principles to decision making.  In practice for the most part, under intense pressure and legal threats from the fishing industry, the Minister has done little to interpret or apply these principles to his decision making even though these are mandatory.

There is little attempt to assess the marine environment before destructive methods are used.  At Spirits Bay and Tom Bowling Bay between North Cape and Cape Reinga, the "unparalleled" biological treasures were only found in 1996 and 1997 as a by-product of a scallop stock assessment study.  Very damaging dredging and trawling continued even then, despite warnings from scientists of imminent extinctions. 

It was only on 1 October 1999 that the Minister has closed off a strip in the bays and this is too limited and too late for some communities, including the once exceptionally rich "sponge garden".  The closure is a strip mostly from 50-70 metres deep. Bryozoans and many other species are not protected by this closure.  The closure is inadequate and can be compared to taking an ecosystem that occurs at several altitudes and only protecting a strip along an altitude band.  Environmentalists asked that the full area be given complete protection from bottom trawling and dredging, reviewable when a full biodiversity report is available in late November 1999 from a study undertaken by NIWA for the Ministry of Fisheries. Instead only limited protection has been applied - and then after much has been lost.

The fishing companies that process fish and shellfish from these areas, and in some cases operate the vessels, include Sanfords, the Northern Scallop Company, Moana Pacific and others.

The debacle of Spirits Bay and Tom Bowling Bays shows much that is wrong with New Zealand's open frontier style fisheries management.  The Oceans Opportunities Conference is seemingly in the open frontier mind set too.  It shows a crass disregard for the future and for the environment.  None of the environmental organisations working on marine matters and for marine reform has been asked to speak. The focus on the conference is not how New Zealand can design marine reform for better ecologically sustainable management of resources: no, it is a throw-back to the cornucopian, limitless exploitation of the pre 1970s. 

New Zealand does not need this kind of exploitative conference.  Nor can the environment or economy afford the catastrophic fisheries management of the 1990s.  It is time for a change, but not of the sort that this conference envisions.  It is time the public of New Zealand was let into fisheries and marine management and hugely influential fishing companies and industry were controlled.  Conferences costing $680/head are not the answer.

Think carefully about marine management when you vote.  Scrutinise party policies and look for parties that recognise and protect the ecological limits:  that way both the environment and the economy will remain in good shape.  That means the other species get a fair go, our kids get jobs, and the vital environmental systems remain intact.

Prepared for the Vote for the Environment Coalition by ECO and Forest and Bird.
If you want more information or to send a donation, contact:
Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand, ECO, P O Box 11-057, Wellington, contact  Cath Wallace at (04)389-1696 or ecowatch@paradise.net.nz;
Forest and Bird Protection Society, P O Box 631, Wellington Barry Weeber at Forest and Bird Protection Society at (04)385-7374, Weeberb@wn.forest-bird.org.nz

Barry Weeber Senior Researcher
Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society
PO Box 631 Wellington New Zealand
Phone 64-4-385-7374 Fax 64-4-385-7373

P O Box 11-057, Wellington Phone/fax 04 385 7545 eco@reddfish.co.nz