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Marine protection claims misleading

Friday 15 September 2017

The claim by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that ‘less than one percent of Aotearoa’s oceans are fully protected’ is being displayed on billboards around New Zealand.

It needs to be challenged.

If not dishonest, it is highly misleading.

This is a battlefield of terminology. WWF have been careful to use ‘fully’ protected as that conveniently ignores the 17 seamount closures and 17 Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs) covering around 30 percent of our vast 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

It also ignores the 44 marine reserves, 63 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and 19 Type 2 MPAs - totalling 12 percent of the territorial sea out to 12 miles.

Not to mention the eight marine mammal sanctuaries, 43 mataitai reserves and numerous regulatory and voluntary closures.

All of the above are missing in action from the WWF campaign, which is funded by the US-based Pew Foundation in a bid to persuade a future government to pass legislation enabling the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

The fact is, the Kermadecs are not at risk from fishing.

The 600,000 square kilometres around the Kermadecs are already seabed sanctuaries.

In 1990, the Kermadec Marine Reserve was created – a no-take sanctuary that extended from the shoreline to 12 nautical miles out. Then, in 2007, the seabed of the EEZ to 200 nautical miles out was declared a benthic protection area (BPA), which banned all dredging and bottom trawling in the 200 nautical miles – and all fishing on the seabed to fifty metres up.

Very little fishing goes on in the waters of the Kermadecs at present. The area, FMA10, is considered commercially unviable due to its distance from New Zealand, the existing no-take marine reserve and the fact that no infrastructure can be built on the Kermadecs due to the conservation status of the land. It seems of little point to create a 600,000 no-take zone when there are already strict limitations on fishing.

Examples such as the Ross Sea, the world’s largest marine reserve, spanning 1.55 million square kilometers of Antarctic waters, show conservation and commercial fishing can be easy bedfellows when collaboration results in workable compromise. In that case, nearly three quarters of the Marine Protected Area was closed to all fishing, while allowing sustainable harvesting of fish and krill in other sections of the Ross Sea.

As international fisheries expert, Professor Ray Hilborn points out, MPAs should be established where the problems are, not where it is politically expedient.

WWF and the fishing industry work collaboratively in many areas, namely seabird conservation and sustainability, through the Marine Stewardship Council and the industry welcomes that collaboration.

However, it is our view that turning more focus to the major threats to ocean health and biodiversity - namely global warming, ocean acidification, oil spills, floating masses of plastics, pollutant run-off from land, and illegal fishing would do more for our planet than a race for the most ‘fully-protected’ ocean sanctuaries.

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