I was shocked to see people caught fishing at the Poor Knights Marine Reserve last week. It seems that not enough of us realise the huge benefits that protected areas bring to our fish stocks and tourism economy, it appeared in the story that they knew they were breaking the rules.
For me the benefits of marine reserves have been obvious: I have been to the same spot every Christmas for over 25 years and never has fishing been as good as it is now.
Our family goes to Awaroa in the Abel Tasman - a slice of paradise right next to the border of the Tonga Island Marine Reserve.
The Tasman Bay has long been void of a lot of good fishing due to a massive commercial fleet being based in Nelson - the biggest fishing port in the Southern Hemisphere. Long ago the easy pickings close to home have been dredged, trawled and netted away.
Like so many people around New Zealand, we grew up with old mateys telling us that "in my day, we would have massive fish right here on our doorstep whenever we wanted" and we would lament at our inability to catch a feed. But since the establishment of the marine reserve nearby, this is no longer the case.
What we experience there is called the 'spillover effect'. When you have a no-take zone, it makes the area around it better fishing - simple as that. But before my personal experience is called into question and labelled as circumstantial evidence, this story is backed up by the research. Conservation Minister Nick Smith released a research report last week saying that "20 years after the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created, there are more than seven times as many crayfish and 40 times as many blue cod over 30 centimetres."
That seems to be working just fine for the many people (like me) who love to be able to catch these tasty morsels.
I just wish that the 'Not In My Back Yard' (Nimby) people didn't get quite so much airtime when the creation of marine reserves is debated. Often when a couple of aggressive, ill-informed people speak out loudly, they will have more say than a quiet majority who realise the all round benefits of protected areas but don't have the energy to speak out. All of the people who oppose marine reserves are fishermen (usually recreational ones as most of the commercial boys - like I used to be - have learned about the benefits now). Perhaps they need to try dropping a line out near a few spillover spots and they will be persuaded?
It was encouraging to see that Smith wants to increase the size of our protected areas, which are pathetically small at the moment given the massive sustainable gains that can be made through increased fish stocks and tourism income.
But for Smith, or anyone who proposes a new reserve, to get their proposal over the line and make it effective, we will need a massive increase in education and enforcement.
The team at Experiencing Marine Reserves do a fine job of inspiring our young ones to support the idea - I reckon that their program should be rolled out into all of our schools nationwide.
Policing these places is another question though as some people just won't change their behaviour (as I have said before) unless they are hit in the pocket or shamed socially.
To enforce a no-take rule efficiently it is crucial to have buy-in from the local community. Using a Rahui is one good way to do this and also offers the flexibility of temporary closures (which might be easier to get past the Nimbys too). They have been successfully running such a scheme in Kaikoura as you can see in this video.
Do you think it would be a good idea to have a rolling system of Rahui all around the New Zealand coastline? What other solutions might there be to protect our fish stocks? Please leave a comment below or email me with ideas to share with the community.
I for one would like to be able to say to my future grandkids that "when I was younger we did something to look after the fish so that future generations can still catch them", rather than have to tell them stories about what they have lost.