Northland marine protection area opposed

By Mike Dinsdale of the Northern Advocate -
Commercial fishermen say snapper stocks in Northland area are in great shape and there is no need for the proposed marine protection area.
Commercial fishermen say snapper stocks in Northland area are in great shape and there is no need for the proposed marine protection area.

Commercial fishermen have vowed to fight plans to set up a Marine Protection Area along the Northland coast that would stop them fishing from an area up to 1800 sq km.

Whangarei MP Phil Heatley wrote to Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson last week formally requesting Northland be considered as the next region for a MPA.

Mr Heatley said he had no pre-conceived ideas where such an area should be and only wanted to get the process started, but said the Tutukaka coast, which has a marine reserve around the Poor Knights Islands, diving attractions like the sunken navel ships Waikato and Tui, and the protected Ngunguru Sandspit, should be looked at.

Whangarei District Council member, Dive Tutukaka operator and Northland Tourism Development Group chairman Jeroen Jongejans has already proposed an 1800 sq km reserve off Whangarei's east coast that he said could generate $22 million a year for Northland.

His proposal would see commercial fishing banned in an 1800sq km triangle from Whangarei Heads, to Cape Brett and to the Poor Knights Islands.

Recreational fishing would be allowed, with reduced bag limits, except in a few protected areas.

But commercial fisherman have vowed to fight the plan, with Whangarei Fisherman's Association president Greg Hayes saying there was no scientific evidence to back imposing such a big no-take zone for commercial fishers.

In fact, Mr Hayes said, recreational fishers took far more fish from the proposed area than commercial fishers, with only about 30 commercial boats operating in that area - and not every day.

He said the group would support a small "total no take" zone in an area such as around Rimariki Island, off Helena Bay, or between Tutukaka and Ngunguru, but would oppose any plans to ban commercial fishing from such a large area.

"It's such an absolutely huge area and I'd like to know exactly what Mr Jongejans is trying to protect there.

"Commercial fishermen will tell you that snapper stocks in that area are in great shape and better than they have been for 20 years."

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