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Two options to protect ocean off the east and south coasts of the South Island will be considered by Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
The forum is an independent body established by the previous government in 2014. It includes representatives of Ngai Tahu as mana whenua, commercial and recreational fishers, tourism, science, the environmental sector, and the broader community.
The report provides two alternative networks of marine protected areas off the coast, from Timaru in South Canterbury to Waipapa Point in Southland. And there the problem starts.
There have been tensions between the different sectors which have led to many heated, but constructive, debates. The two networks mirror the significant differences between the various groups and sectors.
Network one covers 1267sq km and includes six marine reserves, five type-two marine protection areas and 27 habitats. It is supported by the tourism, science, environmental, community representatives, as well as one of the two recreational fishing representatives. Network one prohibits the commercial harvesting of bladder kelp north of the Otago Peninsula.
Network two covers 366sq km and includes three marine reserves. It is supported by the commercial fishing representatives and the other recreational fishing representatives.
The Science Media Centre (NZ) has sent out comments from three representatives, including two from the University of Otago and one from Massey University. They say the South Island of New Zealand is sadly lacking in marine protected areas and unfortunately neither of the two recommendations will do much to address this.
Pocket-handkerchief sized fragments of isolated protection will barely assist the wide-ranging and iconic native sea birds such as the yellow-eyed penguin, whose population along the Otago coast continues to decline due to multiple factors.
Scientists overwhelmingly asked for larger protected areas and buffer zones adjacent to, or around, no-take marine reserves. They also want better protection for mobile species, including marine mammals, yellow-eyed penguins and other seabirds.
While Mr Nash has already shown himself to be pragmatic about the fishing industry, Ms Sage will be hard to move from a Green view of the marine environment. The decision on what to include and exclude in any marine reserve will be reached with difficulty, if at all.
Commercial fisheries may lose between $1.2million and $3.65million because of lost access, they say.
However, there have been claims of over-fishing in New Zealand waters for a long time and the release of the forum report gives a chance to pause and reflect on how Kiwis wish to see their country represented.
Submissions on the forum have long closed but any recommendations made in the report accepted by the Government will need further consultation and public input before implementation.
Scientists say the two proposals are based largely on social compromise rather than science. Given the forum was dominated by extractive uses of the marine environment, the result was predictable. The problem is well recognised, with similar expert criticism of the water forum as well. This kind of stakeholder group tends to result in the lowest common denominator and the environment missing out.
The fisheries industry is so unhappy with the report it has asked for a review of the process.
Otago and Southland people need to be involved in the protection of their own coastlines and must now play their part in ensuring nothing is lost in any compromise agreed to by the ministers.