The Hauraki Gulf is an asset to Auckland beyond measure. It provides many Aucklanders and visitors with so much - not only the ability to fish. There are so few places left in the world that have anything to rival it and there's a growing awareness that it is in serious trouble.
The proposal to create a recreational fishing park within the Gulf will almost certainly achieve outcomes - but we don't believe they're outcomes that anyone wants or needs in order to protect and restore this precious body of water. We would like to highlight some of the concerns shared by many regarding this ill-conceived idea.
For 85 years now our family have been the guardians of The Noises Islands in the heart of the Gulf. The current generation has memories which span over 45 years and we have witnessed many changes to the marine environment surrounding these islands. The degradation is indicative of the deteriorating health of much of the Gulf and is hard to accept. Declining fish stocks and water quality are serious issues. Drawing a line on a chart to separate recreational fishers from commercial fishers fails to address or mitigate these concerns.
The argument over who is going to catch snapper seems to have deflected many of the real concerns which include sedimentation, nutrient run-off, a need to increase abundance over the whole marine ecosystem, and improve overall monitoring.
A recreational fishing park does nothing to enhance biodiversity. It may only serve to drive a wedge between commercial and recreational fishermen at a time when we need to work together.
As Auckland's population continues to increase, so will recreational fishing pressure and in turn resources will continue to be depleted. Not all recreational fishermen will take responsibility to protect this asset. The daily catch limits are outdated and will continue to foster a "get it while you can and catch your limit" attitude by some.
A recreational fishing park which offers little concrete insight into how we might increase abundance or improve monitoring to protect this taonga perpetrates the idea that the only species worth considering here are snapper and (optimistically) crayfish. While they are critical and play an important role, we must equally pay attention to the plight of the limpet and the hapuka and manage the ecosystem as a whole, rather than individual species in isolation.
The beauty of Auckland's harbour and the Hauraki Gulf makes it so desirable as a place to live. The result is rapid growth. Without educating Kiwis and new immigrants alike, how can they know that the Gulf they see today doesn't represent a healthy functioning system and is in decline? Yet unmonitored plunder will turn the Hauraki Gulf into an environmentally depleted area which will resemble the very places which many have sought to leave.
In 2000 the Hauraki Gulf Forum was established as part of The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act. The Forum presented State Of The Environment reports which describe the declining health of the Gulf. "Sea Change" was then established from recommendations made by the forum and is being led by a stakeholder working group. It is now addressing all major issues affecting the Gulf to find collaborative solutions. It has the backing of Auckland Council, Waikato Council, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Primary Industries and tangata whenua.
Perhaps the greatest encouragement with Sea Change is the partnership process that has acknowledged the role of iwi in the Hauraki Gulf as tangata whenua and as change leaders. Their unique position assists with finding solutions which not only incorporate past knowledge but can be used to plan ahead.
The working group members have developed a mutual respect and the ability to work together in an effort to compromise and recommend positive changes for the Gulf. That's not easy: we know how confronting it is to learn that our own interests have contributed to declines. To move forward we must first find a way to retract from an often entrenched position and then find a way to impart this knowledge to others.
The working group is well aware of the challenges facing the Gulf - amongst them the need to eliminate or reduce damaging fishing and extractive practices. A network of marine protected areas should be established around the Gulf to represent a variety of habitats.
Better education - not just in schools - can play a huge role, and attention must be placed on controlling what pours into the Gulf.
Surely a well considered approach which embraces both community and sound science to find solutions acceptable to most should trump a political election promise? A fishing park is no solution to anything and may make matters worse.
The management models being suggested as part of the recreational fishing park are reliant on the ability to monitor and control what happens in the Gulf. We've seen the devastating impact of unrestrained plunder at The Noises. Perhaps at times there may be fisheries inspection but we have never seen it.
To even whisper the phrase "boat registration" invites the wrath of many. Could we think about this not as an infringement of rights but as a means of ensuring all boaties have knowledge of boating and fishing regulations. It could also provide funding to gather much needed information.
If the Sea Change initiative, with its diverse and sometimes conflicting interests, can find common ground by learning to trust one another and make compromises for the health of the Gulf, then so can others once there is an understanding of why it's important.
We believe it's certainly possible to return the Gulf to a healthier state. We can start with the common ground: we'd all like to be able to catch more fish, to see more life and enjoy cleaner water. What counts now is what we do next, and those choices will determine the future health of the Hauraki Gulf.
The Neureuter family are owners and guardians of The Noises Islands in the Hauraki Gulf.