Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Comservation’ Category

Saving New Zealand’s own eel

Posted by on April 23rd, 2013

We’re a passionate people about our natural environment. From the kiwi to the kauri, from the black robin to Maui’s dolphin, our shared sense of responsibility to protect (and when necessary save) our native flora and fauna unites New Zealanders from all walks of life.

The longfin eel (known in Te Reo Māori as tuna) is this country’s only native eel. It’s an amazing species.

Longfin eel only reproduce once in their lifetimes. When the females reach about 80 years of age their instinct drives them from their homes in freshwater streams and rivers out into the sea, and onto a journey of thousands of kilometres to the Tonga Trench where they breed and pass away. Their spawn are carried by ocean currents all the way back to New Zealand, where they make their way up the rivers and that very slow reproductive cycle begins again.

Tuna are taonga to many Hapu and iwi, and at times in history they have been a crucial food protein source for Māori.

Indeed eel is a reasonably popular food in West European markets, particularly in Belgium and the Benelux countries. New Zealand fishers have long exported to Europe and recently there’s been some tentative steps towards selling into Asia.

The available science shows longfins are in decline. They are particularly susceptible to water pollution and sedimentation, and their slow breeding cycle has been disrupted by overfishing and damming of rivers.

Perhaps the starkest evidence is the size of the commercial fishery. At 82 tons it has dropped a whopping 96% since the 1960s.

Yet, for all which we do know, our longfins remain mysterious creatures – and we as a country don’t have adequate science to know just what is required to turn around their path to extinction.

That’s a gross failing on the part of Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, who is supposed to be responsible for fisheries science, as well as Conservation Minister Nick Smith who is responsible for the DOC estate where much of the population lives.

In the face of hands-off inaction from the Government, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, launched her own investigation into the status of longfin eels. Last week Commissioner Wright released her comprehensive report, and it’s a true landmark.

The Commissioner calls for better science, which is a no-brainer – but also for a total moratorium on the commercial fishery.

Now a moratorium is a bold step which would hit fishing communities and some iwi in the pocket. However if the eels go extinct the outcome is the same – only we’d all be the losers.

Conservationists and fishing industries around the world have long looked to New Zealand as an example of a country where the people care for the environment, and as a an early leader in science-based quota management. If the choice is extinction or saving our native eel, then I expect New Zealanders will want their Government to take responsibility and rescue our natural heritage.

So the Government’s deafening silence in the face of Commissioner Wright’s report has been truly disturbing. Ministers haven’t even issued press releases, and the only acknowledgement of the report has come from officials.

I asked Nathan Guy “Is he concerned that the longfin eel (tuna) might go extinct; if so, why, if not, why not?” and here’s what he said:

I will not be able provide the Member with a response within the timeframe available and will endeavour to provide this response at the earliest opportunity.

I received that non-answer three weeks ago but haven’t heard a peep from the Minister since.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment couldn’t have been clearer that the time for action is now. If we don’t commit to saving our native eel then it will go extinct – and extinction is forever.

Could it be that the National Government are so hands-off and hostile to the environment that they just don’t care?


Maui’s dolphins – last chance to save them

Posted by on April 19th, 2012

The DOC submissions on the Intrim extension of the Marine Mammal Sanctuary and Seismic Survey Regulations to Manage the Risk of Maui’s Dolphin Mortality has been extended from today until midday Friday next week, 27th April. I put my submission in today and said this -
I would like to begin by welcoming the Department of Conservation’s document, offering interim additional measures for protection of Maui’s dolphins, until the Threat Management Plan is undertaken and recommendations as a result of this are implemented. The imminent extinction of Maui’s dolphins is unacceptable to us as a developed natio, particularly as one which relies on our “clean, green” image to survive. Our international reputation, particularly in regard to marketing our fish and promoting tourism would be irreparably damaged should we be seen to be taking anything other than all possible actions to save this subspecies.

So, whilst welcoming these proposals and understanding the criticality of action, I do not believe that these proposals go to the extent necessary to deliver what is required – a change in the trend of declining number of Maui’s – and an assurance of their survival.

Unfortunately, the current sanctuaries do not include management of the key threats. Whilst it is an admirable suggestion to extend the boundaries of the sanctuaries, it is not satisfactory to do that without ensuring that effective protection measures are in place. Reading the MAF document on the same topic alongside the DOC document is frustrating, givent aht although they state a shared objectie, and cross reference the consultation documents and submission process, they do not have an “across Deparment” approach. Without such an approach, based on shared evidence and best practice, we risk having a weakened approach to protection. Moreover, this approach also fuels the temptation of the discussion being framed in a “conservation vs fishing” environment, when this is clearly not the best frame for the overall wellbeing and survival of the dolphins.

Having different boundaries, different rules and different management regimes is problematic and could lead to claims of consuion within the fishing industry. It is my view that, givent he critical nature of the Maui’s dolphins numbers, that a more rigorous regime, clear, evidencebased, monitored and enforced by bth agencies, would be more likely to succeed.

I attach with this submission, a copy of my submission on the MAF proposals, so that you can be clear about the point that I am making in regard to the variations.

Within DOC’s boundaries, there should be no gillnets or trawling. That must be one of the “specific activities” that the Minister restricts. I agree that there should be restrictions on seismic activities. But the sanctuary areas, the prohibition on gillnets and trawling, and the restriction on seismic activity must all, of necessity, be a precautionary approach. The proposal of out to 12 nautical miles is supported but I believe that both MAF and DOC regimes should more logically consider the use of depth contours and, as I said earlier, be consistent.

The social media and standard media commenting on this issue has been of the order of the international commentary around the kakapo and the Chatham Island Robin. We can be very proud of the conservation efforts made in regard to these two birds. It is now vital that we take equally focussed measures in regard to saaving the Maui’s dolphins.

Dedicated staff with expertise in marine mammals must be given resources and the mandage to be leaders in this regard. Without such commitment and leadership from the Department of Conservation these proposals, however strengthened, run the risk of failing, and that is not a risk that New Zealand shold be prepared to take.