Playing our part right from start

This is our first Update for 2024 and while it may officially be too late to say Happy New Year, we do hope your year has got off to a good start. The fishing is best described as “variable” at the moment. It’s not just a story of location, location, location, but species, species, species. Warmer seas can make things tough and unpredictable for some in our industry.

And as we start a new year, we continue to deal with other challenging factors. This week and last, several Auckland and Northland-based fishers have been appearing in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee, providing views on the Hauraki Gulf/Tīkapa Moana Marine Protection Bill, which proposes new marine protection areas in the Hauraki Gulf. For some of those who rely on this area for their livelihoods and have been fishing for many generations, the changes could bring an end to long-running family businesses.

Rebecca Alexander is one of those affected. She is part of the family which runs Ashton Fishing Limited out of Leigh. They have been a fishing family since the 1880s. She spoke to the Select Committee in person last week. It’s never an easy thing for anyone to do, but for her, it is not only her business, but her way of life that is at stake.

Rebecca told the committee if the proposed marine protection areas are enforced, fishing for Ashton’s bottom long lining vessel would be seriously impacted, which “could also make us relocate our business entirely in the future … which would cause a loss to our local economy and is unsettling to family life at home … and also result in displaced effort to another area of the coast which is already being fished by someone else.”

She says, “we are massively concerned about the implementation of these areas as there is still no clear response to the massive damage to the Gulf that land-based effects, runoff, and climate change continue to have on the ecosystem. We would like the government to implement and enforce a more ecosystem-based response to the Gulf, a mountain-to-sea approach is warranted instead of continuing to solely target commercial fishing which at times is seen by the public and NGOs as a sole issue or easy scapegoat.”

Another long established and well-known fisher to request the right to make an in-person submission was Phil Clow. Phil represents the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fishermen’s Association. Like Rebecca, Phil believes that the key factors that are harming the Gulf are being overlooked. He told Seafood New Zealand that he personally sees the impact of sedimentation and he worries that no one has “the balls” to tackle the issue. Fishing, he says, is an easy target. But “there’s no policeman in the forest” and so the farming practices and urban development that are causing run off and pollution to accumulate in the Gulf aren’t being dealt with properly or fairly.

Fishing is an easier target than runoff, because it’s happening “over there”. Most of the hundreds of thousands of people who live near or on the Gulf, don’t actually see commercial fishing in action. With no experience of their own, many have been inclined to believe stories told by those who want commercial fishing to stop. And it is so much easier to blame someone else for the degradation of our resources, rather than consider the hard stuff, like the runoff from our streets and homes that is polluting our marine environment or the invasive pest species getting a hold in our harbours, or the biggest, hardest problem of all, global warming.

None of these are the fault of commercial fishing. In fact, as Phil says, commercial fishing provides low carbon food with just a few dozen boats on the water to serve the people of Auckland, Northland and the Waikato.

Seafood New Zealand totally supports the principles of marine protection. This is definitely not a case of putting commercial interests ahead of the environment. As Rebecca tried to get across to the Committee and the listening public, we are the guardians of the oceans who are out on them every day. We see what is really going on.

But a knee jerk response which can sometimes feel like it intends to punish commercial fishers won’t help. In fact, with fewer of our guardians like Rebecca on the water, it may make things worse.

We think the way forward is (and you’ve heard us say this before) truly science led consultation that balances the needs of commercial fishers, iwi and locals with the wants of other groups. On land and on the water. And we all have to play our part because no one is bigger than the environment. If we can proceed on that basis, that really would be a good start to a new year.

/Public Release. View in full here.