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Bottom Trawling - what's at stake

Interview conducted by Pauline Stewart.

Introductory comments: Bottom trawling hopefully will have a short future in the Hauraki Gulf. That’s the aim of Legasea and it’s the mission of people such as Alison Henry, Dirk Seiling both a part of Legasea but also local crusaders working at a local level. It is also the hope and basis for Ngati Hei’s appeal and plea to stop Bottom Trawling in the Gulf of Hauraki.

Last week, The Informer carried a front-page story by Alison Henry on the need to stop bottom trawling. This resulted in a lot of discussion and so a three-person interview was organised to provide more background, more information on this matter of bottom trawling and to hear from those who have been working with the matter of Marine Parks and fishing industry practices for a long time. The Informer met with local farmer and environmentalist, Dirk Sieling, Ngati Hei, kaumatua, Joe Davis and by zoom, Sam Woolford who is Legasea’s programme Lead. Sam led this very key discussion which is Part One of Two.

The ground zero of the interview was in Sam’s words; “The most valuable thing we can get people to do right now Is to get them to write a submission to stop the boom trawling. He is asking people to go to the Legasea website and to Hauraki Gulf Alliance Website.

Let’s not think this is just a local issue. All across New Zealand people are urging the Government to ban bottom trawling. On one Greenpeace petition to “Protect the oceans, Ban bottom trawling” There are 78,000 signatures and that’s just one group. However, there are those who think it is an over-the-top request which is not economically viable and operates the harm to the sea floor. This is expressed in Letters to the Editor this week.


“People are getting more polarised,” says Sam. “I speak for all three is here, in saying commercial fishing is not bad. Aqua culture is not bad. A lack of evolution and change in the fishing industry is the issue. Ministry of Primary Industry needs to move quickly to regulate things to enable long term sustainability. Nothing is getting done. We export our fish whole and unprocessed.

We are not creating anything of value; we are not creating ingredients or end-products - not creating any value added and that is an overarching.”

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Plan - It’s never been used; nothing has been done with it to this point. There have been hundreds of objections. This is the time to effect change. We had a democratic process to bring about the change. It was called Seachange. Everybody on all sides gave a little so that collective change could be achieved. It included things like no trawling and no dredging. Then it changed and then it changed again. The changes were adverse - retreating. This was supposed to be all about revitalising the Gulf Plan.”

Sam continues, “I think the reality is – it’s money. The commercial fishing industry can exert a lot of pressure. They export a vast amount every year. The job of Marine Primary Industries is to increase exports. It’s a quota system. MPI stretches the goals.

“We need to go back in time,” says Dirk. “With the introduction of the quota or agreement system in 1986; we thought that was sustainable and manageable. We didn’t understand the impact. This quota system, for example is based on a single species system. Everyone out there was after their quota of a particular species. We didn’t weigh up the implications of how the species depend on each other to sustain life. Remove one species and you are starving another. “We are taking away the food sources that allow the food cycle to flourish,” Joe adds.

Sam continues, “The other thing is in this quota system, we have adopted indiscriminate fishing techniques. When you fish for scallops you kill other things. We are never going to be in a good position with a single species technique.”

What’s at Stake

What’s at stake was the question asked of the three gathered for this interview..

That’s a big question,” says Sam. First, it’s lifestyle. The health of the environment effects everyone’s lifestyle and everyone’s health. The more technical answer is biodiversity.

Without cray and crustaceans on the sea floor, the other sea life will have nothing to eat. We don’t have the capacity to sustain what we are doing.

“It’s about life, forget about style. It’s the life for the children of Tangaroa,” says Joe.

“There is a real economic risk to this as well. The example I give is the scallops. At this time there is no commercial fishing for scallops. This is because of mismanagement, not through any devised intention. We have to get this right. To have scallops, we need to dive for them, not trawl for them.

I don’t know how to make this change look appealing or sexy, but we have to make this big change.’

Dirk, a dairy farmer and land environmentalist, says, “Twenty years ago, we had to change the way we farmed. The commercial fishing industry is now at a point where there is some realisation that things have not changed in twenty years; and this industry needs to change. We are not anti-commercial. It is the methods of fishing – long line trawling and dredging that are causing a sickness in our Gulf.”

“If we don’t get this right now, we can’t get anything new changed for 30 years .”says Sam. We need people to put in their submissions and be bold about it.”

The other aspect we need to state regarding what’s at stake is about taxation - income -money. All the fish that come in from commercial boats into Whitianga wharf or anywhere on the Coromandel all go up to Auckland. There they are processed. The tax is paid. Then they are transported back here for people to buy and the tax is paid again. There are better and other ways of getting a tax or making economic advances, but this is not the way. We are a seaside town and people can’t buy a fresh fish off the wharf.”

Want to help?

If people want to help, they can go the Hauraki Gulf Alliance (HGA)website and download a form to make a submission. The HGA started with environmental organisations banding together to say ‘This is not acceptable.’

Also now that National is back, it is time to ask Scott Simpson, our MP to work a lot harder. For this he needs to lead with a hiss and a roar. He may yet be the Minister of oceans and Fisheries. Come on Scott I say, for the good of all. Write to your MP.

We will need inshore management tools. There are none. We are offering that through Hua Moana - through the mandates we got from the Seachange kaupapa a few years go.

This government needs to act. The situation we have has happened over consecutive governments. What we are doing is a slow-moving train wreck. It’s hard to get people fired up about it

Dirk adds, “This is for our grandchildren - everyone’s grandchildren.”

Next week: mushy flesh; the waning of commercially caught species; better sustainable economical alternatives.


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