OPINION: The idea of turning environmentally significant marine areas into marine reserves sounds emotionally compelling until it is realised just how much is already being done to protect our marine environment in New Zealand's waters.
The executive director of WWF-NZ, Chris Howe, has called for a marine reserve for the whole of the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Kermadecs, located northeast of New Zealand's North Island, and a similar distance southwest of Tonga (Kermadec sanctuary an avenue for Kiwi pride, Feb 20)
That the Kermadecs zone, an area five times the size of the North Island, has retained the biodiversity that Mr Howe celebrates is no accident.
First, the seas closest to the Kermadec Islands are protected by the largest marine reserve in New Zealand. No fishing of any sort is permitted inside the 12-mile territorial sea surrounding the Kermadec Islands.
Second, the entire EEZ area around the Kermadec Islands (from the edge of the 12-mile limit out to 200 miles from the islands) is a Benthic Protection Area (BPA), set aside to ensure the biodiversity of seabed ecosystems remains untouched.
Bottom trawling and dredging are prohibited within this area. Fishing may take place for migratory tuna that are simply passing through.
Benthic Protection Areas were implemented by the Government after industry proposed that large unfished areas should be set aside to protect their unique benthic biodiversity, including, for example, underwater "seamounts", some of which provide habitats known to be rich in coral and sponges. Benthic Protection Areas are legal entities and are backed by the force of law.
To ensure the fisheries resources within the Kermadecs zone are not overfished, quota allocated here by the Government has been set at nominal levels which effectively precludes commercial fishing except for migratory tuna.
New Zealand's quota management system is based on the best available science. Little scientific research has been done on most species in this area, so the precautionary approach has been applied here to protect the resident living marine resources from being fished.
This multi-layered approach to the protection of the Kermadecs zone is the result of proactive conservation measures by government, supported by industry, since the EEZ was introduced in 1977.
It has delivered results that can give New Zealanders assurance that the very small amount of fishing activity for migratory tuna in the Kermadecs is not harming the rich resident marine resources or their habitats in this area.
Looking ahead, the seafood industry shares a common interest with all New Zealanders to ensure that we maintain the longstanding public commitment to safeguarding this unique part of New Zealand's marine environment.
With that in mind, the considerable protection already afforded to the living marine resources and habitats in the Kermadecs zone suggests that any further proposals for access to resources here should be considered with caution.
The Government has stated it intends to introduce new marine protection legislation into Parliament this year. In our view it would be preferable that any additional measures to protect the Kermadec area should be considered in the context of that legislation.
by Lesley Campbell
Lesley Campbell is the acting chief executive of Seafood New Zealand.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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