Its Not Just About The Blue Cod

It is disheartening to witness the collapse of our Blue Cod fishery but it is understandable.

Having been diving the Marlborough Sounds for 36years. I have enjoyed seeing 20lb moki, an abundance of crayfish, snapper, kingfish, groper, blue cod and other species. Sadly we have watched as species have become less and less.

Today the focus is on blue cod however all species are suffering through the quota management system. We have prided ourselves on this system for years but it is not working, why because it is single specie management. The state of the seabed, reefs and other species dynamics are not put into the equation. When we come to understand the marine environment we quickly learn that it is interconnected. To be healthy all species need to be in balance.

Ministry of Fisheries by their own admission are policy analysts and make decisions on single species. Like today’s financial investors they unfortunately have tunnel vision and do not have a wide enough view to see the coming financial meltdown. This is reflected in the appalling attempt, over the past years to stop the slide of the Blue Cod fishery. I have watched year by year as regulation and restriction has been set, still the fishery continues to slide, why, because until we embrace eco system based management we will not halt the decline. Eco system based management takes all species and the marine environment into consideration. Reduce the number of snapper and kina take over, kina then eat away the forests of kelp that are habitat for other specie. Introduced, invasive organisms can then very easily take hold on these urchin barrens blocking our native species. Trawling, dredging, fishing and aquaculture, can all have a negative effect on the marine environment by destroying spawning habitat and over fishing, depleting large fish stock and the genetic pool, the best breeding fish. Bill Hohepa poses the question about aquaculture and what effect this may have as the drop in Blue Cod stock is greater in these areas.

Today more than ever we need a new vision for the future that will benefit all users commercial and recreational. The answers are there, fisheries can be rebooted in a relatively short period of time. Fisheries bounced back when pressure was off the resource during the war, there are many other examples. WWF have many papers on there website showing fish recovery with an eco system approach.

If we go back in history and look at the number of blue cod around d’Urville Island we get a glimpse of what has been lost. The story ‘Angelina’ shows this very well. People say we need more research but we don’t. Talk to the old fisherman and look back in history the examples are plain to see. Even Captain Cook’s accounts of fish around d’Urville show an unimaginable abundance. It is time to enhance the marine eco system.

Policy makers suffer from ‘sliding baseline syndrome. This is where they cannot imagine the original mass of fish from the past and base their management decisions on what they have remembered in their lifetime. The story of the Foveaux Straight Oyster Fishery collapse is a good example. (See New Zealand Geographic) The baseline used for the blue cod is only a small percentage of the original mass.

In the book ‘The Unnatural History of the Sea’ The past and future of humanity and fishing by Professor Callum Roberts he takes us back to the time of pirates and the first exploitation of the sea. It is a dramatic insight into the unsuccessful management of the marine environment, but it explains and helps us to understand our present day predicament. In his book he outlines with clarity present day fishing and the inevitable consequences, but he also shows a way forward.

Nobody likes to lose the position they are in be it commercial or amateur fisherman, however nothing is surer than this loss if an eco system approach is not taken. The future of fisheries depends on it. It makes economic sense for commercial fisherman to catch their quota in less than half the time they do today with the added savings of time and energy.

Proffessor Roberts shows a way forward, it requires an open mind from our policy makers and a shift from the present system. We can have a return to abundance if we turn present practice on its head by increasing protection.

At present, marine reserves that are protected from all fishing cover a tiny fraction of the sea, while marine protected areas in general cover just 0.6% of the area of oceans. Most governments now accept that we need to increase protection, but the majority still see marine reserves as the pinnacle of protection to be applied to only 5% or 10% of the sea, with lesser amounts of protection given to the rest. Emerging scientific understanding of human impacts on the oceans suggests we flip this management paradigm around. According to this view, marine reserves must be extensive, covering between 20% and 40% of the sea, in order to sustain ecological processes and services-like fisheries-that are vital to humanity. Source: Callum Roberts.

The needed reforms do not involve complicated science, and people do not need degrees from learned institutions to understand them. They are straightforward, common-sense reforms that can be summarized in seven points: (1) reduce present fishing capacity; (2) eliminate risk-prone decision making; (3) eliminate catch quotas and instead implement controls on the amount of fishing; (4) require people to keep what they catch;(5) require fishers to use gear modified to reduce by catch; (6) ban or restrict the most damaging catching methods; and (7) implement extensive networks of marine reserves that are off-limits to fishing. Source; Reinventing fishery management, Callum Roberts.

New Zealand is an island nation, we once led the world in marine management and shared the successful Leigh Marine reserve example and work of Bill Ballantine. We have since lost our way. Presently NZ has less than 1% of marine reserves. A Coleman Brunton Pole in 2005 showed 89% of New Zealanders were under the impression we had 24.8% of our marine environment protected. The same pole showed 95% of NZ’rs thought a greater % of NZ’s marine environment should be protected. To date the government has backtracked from 10% marine reserves to 10% marine protected areas of which only a small percentage will be marine reserves. Who are they listening to?
Today more than ever we need a vision for our marine environment. The groundwork has been done, the science supports the concept, models show it works, why do we keep our heads in the sand. Tomorrows generations will look back appalled at our neglect. Let’s open our minds and embrace a new concept as guardians in the spirit of Kaitiakitanga and enjoy the recovery of our fisheries.

Danny Boulton