By Scott Lee, tourism consultant and Tairua resident
The proposed changes to the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park will, in my opinion, be bad news for residents and visitors to the Coromandel’s east coast.
While we all agree that the Hauraki Gulf is a sad reflection of what it used to be and needs far more protection, the plan to create 19 new marine protected areas will do little for the overall health of this treasure.
That’s because in my view there is no meaningful intent to address the causes of depletion – banning destructive, bulk harvesting fishing methods and reducing excessive catch limits. Instead, the Coromandel is set to bear the brunt of any changes.
Banning recreational fishermen from large areas of the Alderman and Slipper islands will have a huge detrimental effect on locals and on tourist numbers to the Coromandel’s east coast.
For many locals, fishing is not only their passion but also their favourite recreation and a way to put fresh food on the table. It is also part of the social and cultural fabric of living on the coast.
The proposed high protection areas lock up many of the favourite fishing spots for non-commercial anglers from Whitianga, Tairua, Pauanui and Whangamatā while the benefits are, in my opinion, overstated.
Our domestic tourism numbers are dependent on New Zealanders visiting the Coromandel to fish and dive, either staying in their holiday homes or renting commercial accommodation. If large areas of their favoured fishing grounds are no longer available to these visitors, they will simply go elsewhere. This will have serious consequences for the holiday homeowners, B&Bs and commercial accommodation operators, not to mention the downstream effects on supermarkets, petrol stations, restaurants, retailers and house prices.
Fishing charter businesses will be seriously affected, and some will go out of business. This will have a significant flow-on effect as international anglers will go elsewhere in New Zealand or worse, choose another international destination entirely.
At present, Coromandel’s seaside towns are really struggling. The combined effects of Covid, Cyclone Gabrielle and the closure of SH25a have brought pain to many. Any further loss of tourism revenue will obviously affect the recovery we all so desperately need.
What’s wrong with the plan?
The proposed high protection areas have been chosen despite earlier community input since 2013. They seem, in my view, to have been chosen to satisfy an arbitrary desire to increase the total area of the Hauraki Marine Park in protected status without giving thought to where the displaced fishing effort will end up. The bill enabling these new areas will be debated later in the year by the Environment Select Committee.
For years, communities have tried to stop commercial netting in our local harbours, only to be told there is no scientific evidence to support such a ban. Yet the Government is looking to close these areas without, in my opinion, asking whether there is a problem in the first place, or baseline research for measuring results on the area or impacts on the Coromandel community. Surely, we must start by asking the question – “What will success look like?” before developing a plan.
The original SeaChange document of 2017 identified many reasons for the depletion of the fish stocks and the environmental degradation in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Amongst these were commercial fishing practices like bottom trawling and purse seining.
Despite a mountain of scientific evidence of the destructive nature of these practices, they will remain legal commercial harvest techniques under Fisheries New Zealand’s proposal for trawl corridors. Remember this is one of the country’s most significant marine parks.
The original SeaChange document took more than six years of discussions and consultation with recreational fishing representatives, commercial fishermen, iwi, councils, and environmental organisations and the draft plan recommended banning bottom trawling. Yet officials changed the plan to what have now.
In terms of the “trawling corridors”, if the area where commercial trawlers are allowed to operate in the marine park is reduced, this will almost certainly increase pressure around the Coromandel as the commercial fleet repositions itself. That’s because there is no concurrent plan to reduce the amount of catch or fishing effort. This way, for most people it will be out of sight and out of mind.
But there is a solution!
Deep in the Revitalising the Gulf document under the heading Actions to meet our goals there is a little gem.
Action point 7 states “Facilitate and support tangata whenua AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES to manage nearshore coastal areas.”
On page 32 of the SeaChange document, there is also the Ahu Moana Initiative. This is a novel approach to provide for joint mana whenua and community management of local marine areas.
This will however be an uphill battle.
Please, let your local MP or political aspirant know how you feel. People power counts.
Submissions and more information on the trawl corridors is available online at Fisheries New Zealand – Consultations. Submissions are due by November 6.
Submissions on the high-protection areas will be called for later in the year, so stand by.