A THUMBS-DOWN for a marine reserve at Akaroa Harbour in the South Island is firing up an environmental group's campaign for no-take marine sanctuaries in the Bay of Islands. The Bay of Islands Maritime Park Group and its working group Fish Forever aim to raise the profile of the Akaroa case, and are, with other environmental bodies, seeking a judicial review. Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson declined the Akaroa application on the grounds that while a marine reserve might enhance nature tourism, she was not satisfied that this would outweigh adverse effects on recreational fishers.
"One bad decision by a conservation minister cann ot be allowed to undermine future marine protection," Fish Forever committee chairwoman Julie Kidman says."We think a minister of conservation should err on the side of environmental protection rather than encourage further depletion. For the sake of marine biodiversity and for the sake of our campaign to achieve a higher level of marine protection within the Bay of Islands, we will support the applicants in their fight to have this decision challenged and overturned." This year Bay of Islands Maritime Park has raised awareness about the destruction of fisheries globally and the need to establish a network of no-take marine reserves in the bay. Fish Forever is working to generate community support for a formal application for a network of marine sanctuaries in the Bay of Islands, under a co-governance model.
New Zealand Underwater Association marine biologist Peter Crabb calls the minister's stance "unusual" and "precedent setting".
"About 30 percent of New Zealand's land area is in national parks and reserves but there is less than 1 percent of our marine area in reserve. This leaves most of the sea around New Zealand open to threats to our unique marine biodiversity, the main one being fishing and down the list are: Introduced species, pollution and global warming. For the minister to decline an application for a marine reserve because it conflicted with fishing is akin to claiming that the government shouldn't create national parks because they conflict with the interests of mining."
Mr Crabb says the few marine reserves that have been created have all attracted opposition from fishers.
"For a minister of the Crown entity charged with guardianship of the conservation estate to succumb to the pressure of one extractive stake-holder is odd, short-sighted and fails basic conservation principals.
"Without marine reserves, the long-term sustainability of any fishing, let alone the viability of New Zealand's marine biodiversity is doubtful. Marine reserves function not only as insurance policies against overfishing, but enhance fish populations, restore ecological balance and provide the only sanctuaries for large old individuals which we know perform important functions."
Scientists have warned that many fisheries are near collapse as fish sizes get smaller and it becomes harder to catch the numbers of fish they used to. In addition it now appears, from the research of Dr Steve O'Shea, that whales, dolphins and seals are starving and beaching themselves with worn teeth and ulcerated stomachs, such is the impact of overfishing.
"The non-sustainable exploitation of our fish stocks provides short-term gain for the few and long-term environmental harm for everyone."
The application for the Akaroa Marine Reserve was submitted by the Akaroa Harbour Marine Protection Society 14 years ago. At least six ministers have dealt with the application.
Marine biologist Dr Roger Grace, actively involved in Fish Forever, says: "If we want to get serious about restoring fish life in the Bay of Islands, then we have to get serious about a network of protected areas where they will have a chance to recover."