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Fishing industry gets rare pat in latest marine report

Friday 25 October 2019

The Capital’s daily newspaper, The Dominion Post, and the online Stuff site last week carried a most unusual report concerning fishing.

The commercial fishing industry, routinely castigated as villains responsible for every ill in our oceans, actually received some praise.

The Dompost editorial had the headline: Ocean report is not all bad news.

It began: “There are small glimmers of hope in an otherwise melancholy new report about the state of our marine environment. Fishing, for example, is performing better than it used to.”

It noted in these dark times for the environment, any small threads of good news were worth reaching for.

The Our Marine Environment 2019 report produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ warned of the serious effects of climate change and other issues on the unique life in our oceans and coastal seas.

The first marine report was issued in 2016 and an initial overall stocktake of air, freshwater, marine, atmosphere and climate, and land – Environment Aotearoa 2019 – was released earlier this year.

That report also reflected that most markers for the environmental performance of New Zealand’s seafood industry are improving.

It confirmed 97 percent of total wild catch landings had come from sustainable stocks.

The Dompost comment followed the launch of the latest marine report the previous day at the Te Kopahau visitor centre in Owhiro Bay on Wellington’s south coast on a stunning spring day.

The backdrop was the blue waters of Cook Strait ruffled by a light northerly, with the snowclad Seaward Kaikouras hovering in the distance to the south.

The centre sits on the western edge of the Taputeranga marine reserve, gateway to the Red Rocks fur seal colony.

It is an idyllic setting that belies the serious issues facing our coastal waters and deeper oceans.

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson also acknowledged “there is good news” in the fishing sector, citing reductions in accidental captures and trawling.

The report said seabird bycatch has halved, to an estimated 4186 captures in the 2016-17 year, compared to around 8000 at the beginning of the century.

There had also been a decrease in sea lion bycatch with just three observed captures in the 2016-17 year, down from 12 in 2002-03.

Similarly, Hector and Maui dolphin bycatch was reduced.

The last confirmed Maui dolphin death due to fishing activity was in 2002, although the report did not reflect that.

It did recognise that the bacterial disease toxoplasmosis, originating in cat faeces and carried to the sea through waterways, had been identified as a potentially serious threat to the dolphin populations.

Robertson said sedimentation was the issue consistent in every report the ministry had done.

For a country that relied so much on its soils, a lot more investigation was needed.

Porirua Harbour, a once rich food bowl now overflowing with sticky mud, was an example of the impacts of poor land use and protection.

An estimated 700,000 tonnes of sediment flows into the Kaipara Harbour every year.

It is the same story throughout the country’s coastal margins, the sediment smothering the inshore ecosystems largely coming from urban development and soil washed from pastures and from forestry after felling.

Ocean acidification, ocean warming and plastics pollution are among other pressing issues.

There is no denying commercial fishing has an impact on the marine environment, just as farming does on land, but concerted efforts are being made to mitigate that.

It is encouraging that the negative aspects of that footprint are decreasing.

More enlightened environmentalists recognise that and are partnering with industry on projects such as dolphin protection, camera trials, mussel reseeding, predator elimination, and seabird threat management plans.

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