Calls for marine protection delay

Leighton Kirk, an independent contractor who lands his fish to Harbour Fish, unloads fish at...
Leighton Kirk, an independent contractor who lands his fish to Harbour Fish, unloads fish at Careys Bay this week. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Increasing calls are being made to the Department of Conservation and Fisheries New Zealand for the withdrawal of the consultation period for the South East Marine Protection Area proposal, in the wake of Covid-19.

In a letter to Doc director-general Lou Sanson, Harbour Fish chairman Nat Craig said the board of the Dunedin-based business was "deeply concerned" about the consultation period deadline of April 17 and the unnecessary impact it placed on the industry at this time.

Harbour Fish has factories in Dunedin and Bluff and retail outlets in Queenstown and Dunedin. It supplies supermarkets throughout the South Island and also exports overseas.

It employs 73 people and receives seafood from 53 vessels in the lower South Island.

Those fishers were small in-shore commercial vessels and largely owner-operated.

Many of its fishers had already been severely impacted by the effect that Covid-19 has had on the crayfish industry, Mr Craig said.

Harbour Fish supported marine reserves — it relied on the health of the marine environment to enable it to operate — and it would submit on the proposal.

However, it viewed the timing of the consultation period as concerning, given what was known about Covid-19 before the notification on February 17.

"Our fishers need to focus on their ability to work just as our business need to put our full efforts into operations. We ought not be required to expend energy in these unprecedented times on meeting arbitrary and unnecessary deadlines when this proposal can easily be resurrected at a more appropriate time," he said.

Otago Rock Lobster Industry Association executive officer Kate Hesson, who has been pushing for an extension or withdrawal of the consultation period, wrote to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash last week.

The Government was taking exceptional steps to ensure the safety of communities and support businesses, which were both necessary and welcome.

In contrast, SEMPA was "important but not urgent" and continuing with the consultation at this difficult time was placing significant extra stress on members "for no good reason".

"Every day that passes is a lost opportunity to allow the industry to focus on the critical tasks of keeping people fed and workers in jobs," Ms Hesson wrote.

Doc has previously said that a two-month public consultation period is required under the Marine Reserves Act and it was not able to extend or decrease the period.

It has said late submissions would be considered on a case-by-case basis within reason, given the circumstances.

Dunedin's Kees Meeuws, who was part of the ‘‘paua to the people'' movement to protect the recreational paua fishery, said there were "huge concerns" around the proposal.

He believed there were "bigger fish to fry", with people having more important issues to deal with, including whether they would have jobs after the outbreak, paying mortgages, and feeding their families.

It seemed ridiculous that for a Government focused on wellbeing around Covid-19, it did not want to change the timing around the proposal and have a proper discussion about it, and the submissions would not be a fair representation of the public, he said.

It was the least of people's worries at the moment, he said.

Mr Meeuws acknowledged the effect of the outbreak on commercial fishers and said there were "bigger things happening at the moment" when it came to the consultation period.

He was particularly concerned about the safety factor of the proposed marine area, saying a lot of families went fishing to supplement their food bill and that could cause problems if they had to go further afield with the marine area in place. It would also place huge pressure on fish stocks if people all went to the easiest places to fish.

Eric Boock, president of the Karitane-based Eastern Boating and Fishing Club, believed publicity around the proposal had been poor and a lot of people did not know what was going on with it.

Many older people would want to make submissions, yet many did not have computers and he questioned how they were supposed to get their submissions done and posted during the lockdown period.

Brett Bensemann, president of the Tautuku Fishing Club, said his phone had been ringing constantly.

Not only had the consultation period included Easter and Anniversary Days in Otago and Southland, there was now the Covid-19 scenario, and an extension was needed.


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