New Zealand has one of the largest marine areas in the world, covering more than 1% of the Earth’s surface. Its marine area is also incredibly diverse, from the sub-tropical oceans in the north, to our temperate waters around the mainland, to the cool sub-Antarctic waters in the south.
Many of our marine species are found nowhere else in the world. Scientists estimate that more than 80% of New Zealand’s biodiversity is found in our oceans, and much more is yet to be discovered. About 15,000 marine species are known, while it is estimated that another 50,000 species are yet to be discovered – new species are being found all the time.
Our marine area is also a vital part of our economy, supporting out $1.5 billion fishing industry and our $20 billion tourism industry.
It is also central to our national identity: most New Zealanders live near the ocean and have a close relationship with the marine environment. We collect kaimoana or seafood, swim, dive, snorkel and sail, and appreciate the variety of marine life.
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New Zealand’s marine environment is under increasing pressure from human activities. Climate change, pollution, coastal development, mineral exploration and mining create cumulative effects that are having a detrimental impact on the health of the marine environment and marine life.
Fishing operations have the most significant impact on the marine environment, both through the amount of fish caught and the methods used to catch it.
• Some fishing practices, such as bottom trawling and dredging, used by fisheries in New Zealand waters damage the marine environment.
• Over the last 50 years fishing technologies have developed to such an extent that the scale of fishing operations now exceeds a level that is sustainable. The UN estimates that 70% of the world’s fisheries are now exploited to their limits, over-exploited or depleted.
• Many fisheries also catch significant levels of by-catch – species such as albatrosses, dolphins, sea lions and other non-target species.
• According to Statistics New Zealand fishing uses more energy than any other industry sector, increasing by 40% in the last decade.
New Zealand prides itself on our clean, green image, and promotes its fisheries management as world-leading.
Compared to some fisheries, this is partly true – New Zealand does take a comprehensive management approach and is recognised as being among the best.
But comparing ourselves to countries with no management or very poor fisheries management does not mean that we should be proud of our situation. New Zealand is still far from living up to its slogan “If it’s from New Zealand, it’s sustainable.”
Wild fisheries typically take place in open waters, with low levels of enforcement of rules that aim to ensure sustainability, and few observers to report any breaches or problems.
New Zealand’s fisheries quota management system is a rights-based system that entitles quota holders to a “right to fish,” which encourages them to fish to the maximum level allowed under their quota, rather than take a more sustainable approach.
To ensure sustainability, the QMS requires good information and a precautionary approach. Fisheries management in New Zealand is failing by:
• Allowing significant waste of fisheries resources.
• Having no upper size limit and allowing fish that have gathered to spawn to be caught, reducing the ability of fish populations to reproduce.
• Targeting the maximum (rather than an optimum or precautionary) yield.
• Lacking information about fish stocks and how sustainable catches are.
• Allowing or poorly managing levels of marine mammal and seabird deaths, including endangered species.
• Using destructive fishing techniques, such as bottom trawling and dredging, which destroy habitats and seabed life.
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We have a comprehensive guide on the various fishing methods used in NZ waters and their environmental impact here.
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Forest & Bird has a vision for a more sustainable fishery by 2030:
• A healthy and diverse marine environment supporting an abundance of marine life, where profitable fisheries operate alongside other activities.
• Adverse impacts of fishing on the marine environment have been repaired or mitigated, and “nursery areas” important for replenishment of populations are protected.
• New Zealand meets or exceeds world’s best practice in fisheries management and environmental practice, so it can market truly sustainable products worldwide.
Forest & Bird hopes that making seafood consumers aware of problems behind our fisheries management will help them make better choices and encourage our fisheries to improve their practices.
* Forest & Bird would like to thank Framingham wines for their support of the Best Fish Guide and our launch.