When the previous Government announced its intentions to drastically restrict commercial fishing in the Hauraki Gulf (Tīkapa Moana /Te Moananui-ā-Toi), we expressed concerns that the consultation process risked being ineffective. Why? Because if submitters were relying on the information provided, they would be missing vital facts about how and where commercial fishing is occurring in the Gulf today.

That was in August. Consultation on proposed bottom fishing restrictions in the Hauraki Gulf closed on Monday this week. Sadly, despite our request for more information, this has not been forthcoming. 

Seafood New Zealand’s view is that the Hauraki Gulf is vital to the social, economic, recreational, and cultural wellbeing of people and communities. Commercial fishers in the Gulf rely on a healthy, functional ecosystem. So does everyone with a stake in the future of this beautiful taonga. Like others who love the Gulf, it is only logical that we support approaches to integrate the management of the natural, cultural, and physical resources of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments.

But we remain concerned about the consultation process, specifically the lack of necessary information provided to participants. Decision-making is only as good as the advice received by decision-makers. As they say in the computing world, garbage in, garbage out. If well-meaning submitters don’t have the full facts to hand, the feedback generated from submissions may be of insufficient quality to inform advice to new Ministers.

So what specifically are we worried about? Here is a sample:

  • The proposals seek to address the adverse effects of bottom contact fishing in the Gulf. But adverse effects have not been demonstrated. In fact, check out the next point about what the recent science has actually shown.
  • The current average overlap of trawl with suitable habitat for biogenic taxa is very low (4.3%). What does this mean in plain English? It means that 95% of the seafloor creatures in the Gulf are not impacted by bottom fishing. Measures to avoid adverse effects can likely be achieved without making huge changes to commercial fishing. 
  • The range of options provided is narrow and only includes options that have high levels of “protection”. There is no option to maintain the current fishing grounds or simply tweak where commercial fishing can take place. This means fishers and their livelihoods will be hit hard no matter what.
  • The proposals were applied to both trawl and Danish seine fishing methods, despite them being very different in both what they need to operate and how they fish.

All impacts on the Gulf need addressing
It is widely recognised that the Gulf faces multiple threats: climate change impacts, runoff, high traffic from recreational and commercial transportation and cargo, invasive pest species. These things have the potential to get much worse as global heating really takes hold and Auckland’s population increases. Recently, the changes in the health of fish stocks in the Gulf have been positive. But despite that, commercial fishing is an easy target – it seems like a contained problem to solve.  Fixing runoff on the other hand, is hard.  There’s runoff from private land and public land, roads and farms, land development and forestry. These impacts are harder to contain, but they are arguably much more serious. 
We will continue to do our part to care for the Gulf
We are pleased current evidence indicates that bottom impact fishing is having a very low impact in the Gulf. Seafood New Zealand continues to support action taken to restore the mauri (lifeforce) of the Gulf where it is evident that there are adverse effects to be managed.

Sadly however, for the above reasons and many more made in our submission to Fisheries New Zealand, we do not support the current proposals. To try and move things forward in a positive way, we have requested a supplementary consultation process with better information provided and a wider range of options.

The Gulf is too important to not do this process properly.