Careless statements from NZUA

The New Zealand Underwater Association’s (NZUA’s) Annual report is out with lots of stunning photos from Experiencing Marine Reserves. I do a lot of diving but I’m not a member of NZUA. One of the reasons for this is the associations close relationship with the blood sport organisations (New Zealand Sports Fishing Council / Legasea and The NZ Spearfishing Association).

Environmental campaigns are one of its three pillars but the organisations moral compass is compromised by support for activities that kill our native wildlife. They have been more political recently (lobbying government on fishing policy) but they aren’t developing their own views, just kowtowing to Legasea.

On page 26 of the Annual Report they have said they will be consulting on new Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) and that they support them, but they give some uninformed caveats.

We don’t support MPAs where:

1)  An area is not of ecologically significant (This is the exact wording, not a typo from me)

This is an illogical statement because we need to protect a network of representative habitats from fishing. In Aotearoa / New Zealand less than a one percent of our marine environment is protected from fishing, so nearly any protected areas will become ecologically significant.

2) Where removing an area concentrates fishing effort elsewhere

All place based fishing protection displaces fishing effort, including those that limit commercial fishing. It’s a short term loss that is offset by the long term benefits of having an area with larger breeding animals which produce exponentially more offspring. For example it takes thirty six 30cm Tāmure / Snapper to make the same amount of eggs as one 70cm fish (Willis et. al., 2003). And of course the spillover effect which I should not have to explain.

Most divers and the New Zealand public understand this, which is why marine reserves are so popular. There is 77% support for 30% marine protection in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and 93% of the submissions for a recent marine reserve proposal for Waiheke Island were supportive, despite opposition from the blood sport lobby groups.

Despite our Marine Reserves being the best places to dive, NZUA say that ‘instead’ they will now support Special Marine Areas (SMAs). They then confuse the term as used in Revitalising the Gulf: Government action on the Sea Change Plan and tell readers that SMA’s include the mussel beds that I have been helping to make (which are not protected from human harvest), seaweed reestablishment and crayfish re-introduction. However these are all examples of active restoration – which I am a big fan of – but it’s really hard, small scale and expensive. Active restoration has its own work stream in the plan and is completely different to SMAs. In the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari marine spatial plan SMAs are Special Management Areas, they are described as “limiting all commercial fishing, and in addition the restrictions would extend to most recreational fishing (with the exception allowing for ‘low volume/high value’ catch)” They were proposed for the Mokohinau and Alderman Islands. Without strong limits on recreational fishing I expect the SMAs would have failed to create conservation outcomes in a similar fashion to Mimiwhangata. The experts have redesigned them as High Protection Areas (HPAs). The experts decided the SMAs (like Rāhui expressed as section 186 closures) are fisheries management tools rather than conservation tools. It will be interesting to see if DOC can get them to meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) high protections standards. Assuming these are the SMAs NZUA refer to, the SMAs would not have meet their own criteria (as an MPA that they are willing to support) because they would have displaced fishing effort.

By using the wrong terminology and examples, we can see NZUA have not paid much attention to the statements. The uninformed caveats for MPAs they would support show a general lack of awareness of ocean conservation. I hope they clarify their position. It sounds like NZUA and the blood sport groups will oppose the HPAs proposed in Revitalising the Gulf. This is disappointing, without more support NZ will stay in the 1% protection level along with Russia and China. See how marine protection in Aotearoa / New Zealand stands on the international stage in this awesome graphic by NZ Geographic.

NZUA are falling out of step with the New Zealand public and drifting away from their international counterparts who are strong ocean advocates. Divers have a unique view of the underwater world, I believe it comes with a responsibility to take care of it. I wish NZUA were more like PADI who are working to protect 30% of our oceans. SSI are also active in Aotearoa / New Zealand with a no harm Marine Conservation programme.

I hope NZUA one day learn to take the same precautionary care for the health of our oceans that they advocate for in diver safety.


An open letter to the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries.

Hon David Parker
Minister for Oceans and Fisheries

11 May 2022

Tēnā koe Minister Parker

Pāpaka / Paddle Crabs (Ovalipes catharus) are native to New Zealand. There are 10 commercial fishery areas with nearly all the catch on the East coast of the North Island. The commercial catch has been in decline for two decades with no changes to the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC). The TACC is about ten times larger than the recreational and customary catch. The main fisheries (PAD 1, 2, 3, 7, 8) look like they may have collapsed, the TACC for these fisheries total 590 tonnes, landings in the 2019-20 season were only 19.2 tonnes (3% of the TACC).

I disagree that the fishery is only lightly exploited (FNZ 2021).

Commercial paddle crab landings (tonnes)

Please research the current population. If you don’t have the resources to do this then I recommend you:

  1. Dramatically reduce the TACC for Pāpaka to allow the species to recover.
  2. Reduce the daily bag limit from 50 to 5.
  3. Ban the use of nets in estuaries which kill Pāpaka and other declining species as bycatch.

Thank you



UPDATE 19 August

Response from Hon David Parker.

The response leaves catch limits incredibly high (765 tonnes for commercial) despite acknowledging that commercial take is incredibly low. The minister assumes that the population is healthy but provides no data to justify the decision.

An underwater time machine for Waiheke Island

On an ordinary part of our coastline in 1975 our first marine reserve was created. The Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve at Leigh was difficult taking 13 years to overcome all the objections from fishers. 47 years on what have we learnt?

We now know the sacrifices those fishers made has been paid back a hundred fold. The reserve is home to large fish which make a disproportionate contribution to the Gulf Tāmure / Snapper population. It takes thirty six 30cm Tāmure / Snapper to make the same amount of eggs as one 70cm Tāmure / Snapper. Adult Tāmure / Snapper within the reserve at Leigh were estimated to contribute 10.6% of newly settled juveniles to the surrounding 400km2 area, with no decreasing trend up to 40km away. The commercial value of the nursey has been estimated at $1,490,000 per annum. That’s a huge contribution and it makes you wonder how bad things would be without the reserve, what’s worse we might not even know how bad it had gotten.

The marine reserve at Leigh was designed to act as a benchmark, a view of what an unimpacted ecosystem would look like. It’s the best place to experience marine wildlife. The fish are big and abundant, the water is alive and exciting. Putting your head underwater is like looking back in time when the ocean was healthier.

With every passing generation we lose memories of abundance and diversity. When I wonder if I saw more seahorses as a child I can’t be sure. This is the value of having a reference point to measure marine health.

Our marine scientists now understand edge effects, population source & sink dynamics and the connections between geology, habitat and biodiversity. They understand how intact ecosystems are more resilient to pollution and change. At 2,350ha the new Waiheke marine reserve is four times the size of the Leigh marine reserve (547ha). I think it will out perform the Leigh marine reserve and deliver our best chance of experiencing an intact marine ecosystem in the inner Gulf. It could be a benchmark, the gold standard to which we measure other changes we make.

There will be many additional benefits for the Waiheke marine ecosystem like protecting against overfishing and improving the resilience in the face of climate change and pollution. But it’s the reserves function as an experience of unimpacted ecosystem, a window back in time, not just to 1975 but further back before human impact, that’s what we hope to discover.

But this time machine won’t happen without your support. Please visit and let the decision makers know what excites you about the proposal.

New Zealand’s crazy fishing rules

With the government reviewing the Wildlife Act 1953 I got to thinking about our wild fish. The rules are pretty crazy.

I definitely think its time for a review.

Link to high res portrait version of this diagram.

Why I’m supporting the Waiheke Marine Reserve proposal

Here is my submission on the Hākaimangō – Matiatia Marine Reserve (Northwest Waiheke Island) application. Details and submission form here. Feel free to use any or all of this submission yourself and send it to:

There have been decades of korero about marine protection in the Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana / Te Moananui-ā-Toi. Everyone knows we urgently need more protection but the Governments proposals are too small, experimental, slow and ignore Waiheke Island.

The only concern I have about the Hākaimangō – Matiatia Marine Reserve (Northwest Waiheke Island) application is the lack of published support from iwi authorities. My understanding is that the applicants and the Department of Conservation continue to engage iwi (nine months to date), but while iwi authorities at this stage have not committed their support they are interested in dialogue and importantly they have not opposed the application. Two leading descendants of 19th century Waiheke Ngāti Paoa chiefs, Moana Clarke and Denny Thompson have expressed open support. Iwi politics in the Treaty settlement era are complex and difficult for me as a pakeha to understand. I am concerned about the considerable expectations put on Māori. If we limit our support to co-designed or iwi led marine reserve applications we would be burdening iwi with a responsibility for marine heath they do not seem to be resourced to implement. There are no published concerns about the proposal from iwi. 77% of Māori support 30% marine protection in the Gulf (Hauraki Gulf Forum Poll 2021). I hope that the iwi leaders will put the mauri / lifeforce of the HGMP first and support the application. In the meantime the cautious approach of iwi authorities is no reason not to support the application. If any iwi do have concerns we should take great care to hear and work through those concerns, they have significant rights as mana moana.

UPDATE 28 February. A local iwi body the Ngāti Paoa Trust Board are supporting the application.

16 reasons I’m supporting the Hākaimangō – Matiatia Marine Reserve (Northwest Waiheke Island)

1. We don’t have enough protection. A tiny 0.33% of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (HGMP) is fully protected from fishing, the governments Revitalising the Gulf plan will hopefully increase this area to 0.575% by late 2024 (Revitalising the Gulf 2021). The other forms of protection suggested in the plan all involve some kind of fishing. We need places where with intact ecosystems where our taonga and heritage don’t get eaten. The proposed Hākaimangō – Matiatia Marine Reserve is a significant addition at 0.195% of the HGMP. All the proposed protections need to be actioned as soon as possible to reverse the decline of biodiversity and abundance in the HGMP (State of our Gulf 2020). If all the proposals are accepted only 6.7% of the HGMP will be protected from fishing (excluding cable zones which are not designed to protect biodiversity). We will need many more proposals to meet the Hauraki Gulf Forums goal of 30% protected.

2. It’s long term. Rāhui enacted through section 186 of the Fisheries Act only last for two years. This is not the right tool to use to sustain large breeding animals live for more than 50years. Tāmure / Snapper can live to at least 60 years of age (Parsons et. al. 2014).

3. It’s big. For decades scientists have been telling us that our marine reserves are not big enough to protect wildlife from the edge effect. If approved at 2,350 ha Hākaimangō – Matiatia would be the largest marine reserve in the HGMP.

4. It’s in a great spot. The site covers an ecological transition zone between the waters of the inner and outer Gulf. The inner Gulf is slightly cooler, more turbid, shallower, low energy (sheltered by a screen of islands including Waiheke Island) compared to the outer Gulf which is deeper, warmer, clearer and comparatively high energy marine environment. The site was select by marine biologist Dr Tim Haggitt after doing extensive surveys around Waiheke Island in 2015. The area is geologically remarkable for its extensive underwater platforms and terraces, the diversity in physical habitat is reflected in the flora and fauna.

5. There are plants and animals left worth protecting. Functionally extinct species like Kōura / Crayfish (Jasus edwardsii & Jasus verreauxi) are still found in the area so the recovery time here will be faster than other overfished areas of the HGMP.

6. We need more baby fish. It takes thirty six 30cm Tāmure / Snapper to make the same amount of eggs as one 70cm fish (Willis et. al., 2003). This marine reserve would dramatically increase egg production in the HGMP. Marine reserves make a disproportionate (2,330% Tāmure / Snapper in the reserve at Leigh) larvae spillover. Adult Tāmure / Snapper within the reserve at Leigh were estimated to contribute 10.6% of newly settled juveniles to the surrounding 400km2 area, with no decreasing trend up to 40km away (State of our Gulf 2020).

A 40km radius from the centre of the proposed marine reserve.

7. Fishing on the boundary will be awesome. The proposed marine reserve is big enough for people to fish the borders with a clear conscience. Fishing here will be popular with many big fish leaving the area (See Halpern et. al. 2009 on spillover).

8. People want marine reserves. Marine reserve support is strong and getting stronger. On island support for marine protected areas from island residents was 67% with off-island ratepayers at 54% in 2015. A 2021 poll by the Hauraki Gulf Forum shows general support for 30% protection at 77% with only 5% opposition. The poll showed no difference in support from Māori.

9. It’s a great cultural fit. Most people who live on Waiheke Island really care about the environment. Conservation values are strong across the different local communities.

10. It will be great for education. The marine reserve will create much richer outdoor education opportunities for the young and old people of Waiheke and Auckland. Rangitahi in particular will benefit from being able to experience an intact marine ecosystem. Te Matuku Marine Reserve is less suitable for education because the water clarity is dramatically impacted by sediment.

Left: Diver at high tide in the Te Matuku Marine Reserve.
Right: Wheke / Sydeny Octopus at high tide in the proposed marine reserve.
Photos by Shaun Lee.

11. Resilience to climate change. By maximising biodiversity and abundance the marine reserve will protect the HGMP from climate change impacts, particularly heatwaves, invasive species and ocean acidification. Marine reserves are like insurance against uncertainty.

Marine heatwaves are causing local extinctions

12. Improving the economy via commercial fisheries. Juvenile Tāmure / Snapper leaving the Cape Rodney to Okakari Point (Goat Island/Leigh) Marine Reserve boosted the commercial fishery by $NZ 1.49 million per annum (Qu et. al. 2021). Auckland University found 10.6% of juvenile snapper found throughout the Gulf – up to 55 km away were sourced from from this one marine reserve. The researchers found economic benefits to the recreational fishery are even more substantial.  There are other commercially fished species in the area The proposed marine reserve is four times bigger than the Goat Island reserve.

13. A benchmark. No harm marine reserves provide a reference point for assessing the impacts of our activities elsewhere. “As kaitiaki in the broadest sense, we have an obligation to preserve natural examples of marine ecosystems” – State of our Gulf 2020. Data obtained from marine reserve monitoring compliments fisheries information and matauranga Māori to help us understand environmental change.

14. Science. Marine reserves are a natural laboratory. They have contributed massively to our understanding of marine ecology and ecological processes. Many of our leading marine scientist studied and conducted research in marine reserves at Leigh, Tāwharanui, Hahei and elsewhere. Of course the Marine Reserves Act expressly recognises the scientific importance of marine reserves. Scientific research is an over-riding priority in the Act,

15. Tourism benefits. The marine reserve will add to the growing ecotourism opportunities on Waiheke Island. It complements the $10.9 million dollar investment in Predator Free Waiheke (Predator Free 2050 Limited 2021) which has a vision to become the world’s largest predator-free urban island. The marine reserve will be much cheaper to create and maintain and will deliver a mountains to the sea nature experience.

16. Return on investment. The Cape Rodney to Okakari Point Marine Reserve (Goat Island) generated $18.6 million for the local economy in 2008 at a cost of about $70,000 for the Department of Conservation (State of our Gulf 2020).

The Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana / Te Moananui-ā-Toi can not afford to have this application sit on a shelf waiting for stronger political leaders. Please start the process of creating the Hākaimangō – Matiatia Marine Reserve and healing the wider area as soon as possible.


Hākaimangō – Matiatia Marine Reserve (Northwest Waiheke Island)

Hauraki Gulf Forum Poll 2021.

Parsons DM, Sim-Smith CJ, Cryer M, Francis MP, Hartill B, Jones EG, Port A Le, Lowe M, McKenzie J, Morrison M, Paul LJ, Radford C, Ross PM, Spong KT, Trnski T, Usmar N, Walsh C & Zeldis J. (2014). Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus): a review of life history and key vulnerabilities in New Zealand, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 48:2, 256-283,

Predator Free 2050 Limited 2021. Annual Report 2021

Revitalising the Gulf 2021

State of our Gulf 2020

Qu et. al. (2021). Zoe Qu, Simon Thrush, Darren Parsons, Nicolas Lewis. Economic valuation of the snapper recruitment effect from a well-established temperate no-take marine reserve on adjacent fisheries. Marine Policy. Volume 134.

Willis, T.J., Millar, R.B. and Babcock, R.C. (2003), Protection of exploited fish in temperate regions: high density and biomass of snapper Pagrus auratus (Sparidae) in northern New Zealand marine reserves. Journal of Applied Ecology, 40: 214-227.

Halpern, B., Lester, S., & Kellner, J. (2009). Spillover from marine reserves and the replenishment of fished stocks. Environmental Conservation, 36(4), 268-276.

A Fisheries Management Plan for the Gulf

Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ) is designing an NZ first Fisheries Management Plan for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park that they are calling Ecosystem Based as part of the Revitalising the Gulf – Government Action on the Sea Change Plan. They are seeking an advisory group as part of their discourse of delay (Revitalising the Gulf was launched six months ago). I have not asked to be part of the process. Because the advisory group does not have any decision making capability it won’t be very effective in managing commercial fisheries (like Sea Change), this is because FNZ has been captured by industry (Parker 2016). FNZ also only want advice from people with experience in Fisheries Management, based on the state of Gulf this is like asking the Tabacco Industry to regulate smoking. But they might be able to reduce recreational catch which I think has the biggest impact on the Gulfs reef ecosystems. Unfortunately of the five voices, only one will be from the environmental sector, so it doesn’t have much of a chance of being ecosystem based, and to be truly ecosystem based; the scope would have to include the management of other impacts on the ocean like plastics and sediment (Government departments have hand picked recommendations from the Sea Change which was the only attempt at an integrated management plan). The plan will start to address the effects of fishing which FNZ should have been doing since the act was established in 1996. The Sustainable Seas Challenge has a project investigating what Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management would look like for the Gulf, it’s so political even the scientific proposal is two months late.

The outcomes of the proposed plan are:

  • Healthy, functioning aquatic environments that support sustainable fisheries
  • Fish stocks at levels which meet the needs of treaty partners and stakeholders
  • Inclusive and integrated regional participation in governance of fisheries

Like more than 10% of New Zealanders I don’t eat our native wildlife, my suggestion for creating a really Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management Plan would stop all fishing in the Gulf and not be very popular 😀 So here are some ideas that might be a bit more palatable. First of all my outcomes would be different:

  • Clearer water
  • Restored kelp forests (no kina barrens & carbon sequestration)
  • Increased biodiversity and intact ecosystems
  • Increased abundance
  • Climate change resilience

Obviously we need to stop bottom contact fishing (as per Sea Change and the Hauraki Gulf Forum goals) but on top of that, this is what I would do to achieve the above outcomes.

Provision 1: No more killing of functionally extinct native wildlife and habitats.

These species need to recover to much higher levels to perform ecosystem services and increase biodiversity. Species I consider functionally extinct. Kutai / Green-lipped mussels, Kōura / Spiny rock lobster and Packhorse rock lobster, Hapuku, Sharks etc.. Where populations of species are not known fishing should stop (precautionary approach) and the group complaining about the closure should pay for the science to measure it (user pays). Many species are in such a bad state we now need to also stop fishing practices that might kill them as bycatch (eg. Killing juvenile Hapuku who have a pelagic phase in Purse Sein nets). The sooner we stop killing the species the sooner we will see them recover. The advisory group will suggest long rebuild times for populations so they can keep killing as much as they can for as long as possible. I would stop all killing right now and wait until stocks have recovered to 80% biomass and there contribution to ecosystem function has been measured before considering harvesting again.

Provision 2: Reductions in the take of food for functionally extinct native wildlife.

This has been said before but just for marine mammals “Management of the Greater Hauraki Gulf should take into account the potential for trophic and system-level effects of re-establishment/recovery of marine mammals towards historical levels.” MacDiarmid 2016. I think it should apply to other functionally extinct predators like Hapuku.

Provision 3: No more killing native filter feeding animals that live on the seafloor.

Not everybody will love this idea but everyone will love the result – clearer water. The Gulf has been overloaded by sediment and nutrients and the tap is still running. Filter feeding animals help clear the water by removing sediment from water while looking for food (mostly phytoplankton).

Increasing populations of filter feeders that live on the seafloor, Kutai / Green-lipped mussel, Tipa / Scallop, Tuangi / Cockle, Hururoa / Horse mussel, Tio / Oyster etc will increase water clarity which will increase kelp biomass and carbon sequestration. Other benefits include more complex benthic habitats which are nurseries for fish, removal of harmful pathogens and even the production of sand. Increased water clarity benefits visual predators like Tāmure / Snapper and Human spearfishers.

In some parts of the Gulf a lot of money is being spent trying to actively restore shellfish, by not killing shellfish in areas where we still have remnant populations we can increase larval supply across the Gulf. Passive and active restoration activities are complementary.

Provision 4: Dramatic increases in forage fish populations.

By weight most of the fish in the Gulf are also filter feeders. These forage fish swim around in large schools with their mouths open feeding on zooplankton. Unlike the bivalves listed above they do not bind sediment up in balls and deposit it on the seafloor. This means not all the above benefits of increasing their populations apply, however its likely they play a critical role in the Gulfs ability to sequester carbon. I’m most interested in increasing forage fish populations because they are critical to many Gulf food webs. Commercial harvest of some forage fish like Blue mackerel has increased 300% in the last 20 years. This is reducing the amount of food available to protected species that we want more of, like whales and seabirds. Populations of most forage fish are not known so that would be the first step, I would then set the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) very low (E.g. 20% unfished biomass) and invest more in monitoring the breeding success of their predators (seabirds and cetaceans) and adjust the TAC accordingly.

Provision 5. Maximum size limits for recreational species.

Restoring Kōura / Spiny rock lobster and Packhorse rock lobster numbers is going to take a long time and they will need help to push back Kina / Sea urchin barrens and regrow our kelp forests. We can fix this by creating a maximum size limit for Tāmure / Snapper. Bigger snapper are better at managing Kina populations and are dramatically better at making baby Tāmure / Snapper. If the later is true for all finfish then it makes sense to introduce the maximum size limit across all species. Recreational fishers could still have fishing competitions but they would have to be catch-and-release. Large fish should learn to avoid hooks overtime reducing harm and selecting for traits that support catch-and-release. R&D would be required to match the gear to fish size for the longline fisheries but as I said earlier this group hasn’t been set up to have the power to influence commercial take.

Provision 6. Effort controls with gear limits.

We need to get much less good at killing fish. Methods like nets, pots and dredges need to be banned along with long lining. Gear restrictions should also apply to methods with high levels of bycatch. This is not just what is used (eg. set nets catching protected bird species) but also how (eg. Let’s stop all fishing in workups and spawning aggregations). This means a lot of re-educating fishers, the introduction of a license would be sensible (like Australia which has had licenses for 20 years and is not known for being progressive on wildlife protection).

Provision 7. A network of Marine Protected Areas covering at least 30% of the Gulf.

Source–sink dynamics are not hard for anyone interested in population management to understand. No-harm areas where populations can reach near 100% of their un-fished state can feed exploited areas. No one would design a conservation management plan on land without a wildlife refuge. I don’t see why the design of network of such areas should not be part of an ecosystem based population management plan in the ocean.

“It would be logical to close some scallop beds and create passive restoration (broodstock areas) to increase the fishery yield” 

– Dr Mark Morrison, Shellfish Restoration Co-ordination Group, December 2021.

A recent poll showed that the 30% protection policy had 77% support from the public including Māori. These areas would serve as a reference point to compare the impacts of fishing elsewhere in the Gulf and provide the best possible resilience to climate change impacts like ocean acidification (which scares me more & more every time I look into it). One of the most difficult hurdles for Marine Reserve applications is the perpetual nature of the policy. Creating MPAs under a fisheries management plan would be a lot easier, voices of those seeking protection in the Gulf (like me) will go quiet the longer the areas stay closed to fishing and visa versa.

It’s a good time to share ideas on what an Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management plan would look like. There are some attempts to define it here, but they all try to avoid the idea of simply killing less native wildlife, no one wants to pay for that research.


MacDiarmid 2016. Taking Stock – the changes to New Zealand marine ecosystems since first human settlement: synthesis of major findings, and policy and management implications. New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report No. 170 A.B. MacDiarmid et al. June 2016. Ministry for Primary Industries.

Parker 2016. Hon David Parker rhr/document/HansS_20160920_054787000/parker- david


The Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Plan Advisory Group has been announced. The Chair is an old school fisheries scientist who is responsible for the current fish populations. There are three commercial voices and one (or one and a half) recreational. There are only two voices for serious change. I am not counting on it delivering significant change.


My submission on the proposed plan which refines thoughts I began in this blog post. It includes additional critique of the draft plan and many new measures.

Four irresponsible things Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ) have done that pushed the Gulf tipa / scallop population to the verge of collapse.

The tipa /scallop population in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (HGMP) is on the verge of collapse due to mismanagement by Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ). The current population is one fifth of what it was in 2012 (when they last surveyed the beds). Huge cuts are needed to save the population, most of us will experience the loss in the supermarket or the boat ramp. Here are the things they did wrong (many by their own admission).

  1. FNZ allowed fishing methods that destroy habitat. Bottom impact fishing is irresponsible because it destroys the habitats of target species. When you kill the animal and its home a new animal is less likely to be there the second time you go hunting there. “Dredge fishing is known to have negative impacts on scallop growth, populations and the habitat that supports them” – FNZ 2021. Juvenile scallops thrown back overboard by dredge fishers (bycatch) also have a high mortality rate.

  2. FNZ relied on self regulation. Instead of doing tipa bed surveys they relied on:
    1. Industry self-regulation which hid declines at individual beds (the scheme is called voluntary Catch Per Unit Effort). The average catch limit for the last decade was more than double what was actually landed.
    2. Estimates of recreational catch based on boat ramp inspections. Commercial fishing is not the only problem here, 3/4 recreational only fished beds have collapsed.
    Cameras on commercial boats (which can match catch with location) and mandatory recreational catch reporting would enable finer scale regulation and stop this happening to other fish populations.

  3. FNZ didn’t do any spatial planing. They set no areas aside as nurseries for juvenile shellfish. “It would be logical to close some scallop beds and create passive restoration (broodstock areas) to increase the fishery yield” – Dr Mark Morrison, Shellfish Restoration Co-ordination Group, December 2021. FNZ even let bottom trawlers drag their nets over tipa beds damaging both adults and juveniles and leaving them vulnerable to predation and disease. A bed that was discovered in 2011 (Hauraki bed) was fished to collapse by 2014. This bed may well have been the nursery that propped up the already declining population. FNZ (and other governing bodies) hand picked ideas from the only integrated management plan devised for the Gulf (Sea Change 2017) which planned to phase out bottom impact fishing and addressed other impacts like sediment.

  4. FNZ didn’t take a precautionary approach. FNZ should not have to rely on iwi calling a rāhui to stop a population collapsing. No one is paying iwi to sustainably manage fisheries. The two rāhui approved under section 186A of the fisheries act were already too late to save the population but they should have been actioned much faster. Variability in the tipa population trends gave FNZ gamblers confidence and they played the fishery like a slot machine.

You can read the report that recommends closing the fishery here. I will be supporting a full closure and recommending a discontinuation of the four irresponsible behaviours. I hope that all the tipa beds recover from the closure but it’s likely many of them will not. We have recently seen this in SCA7 Golden Bay, SCA7 Tasman Bay where the FNZ collapsed the fishery, and in three individual beds (Ponui-Wilsons, Shoe-Slipper, Barrier & Kawau) in the SCA CS fishery (HGMP). Enabling the long-term damage of a habitat forming species is not just fisheries collapse or functional extinction – it’s ecocide.

FNZ 2021

Note this paper recommends eliminating bottom contact fishing is the most effective intervention to rebuild a depleted scallop populations in New Zealand

Where are all the fish in the Hauraki Gulf?

The most barbaric way to answer this question would be to drag a giant net around and count what you kill but you’re not allowed to do that in the inner Gulf where trawling is restricted… unless you have a research permit from Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ). Despite calls to stop bottom trawling in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (HGMP) (Sea Change 2017 & Hauraki Gulf Forum 2021) FNZ have started doing these trawls regularly, they justify the trawls are required to gather information on the Tāmure / Snapper population. They haven’t done research trawls like this since the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act came into effect in the year 2000 (NIWA 2019). In areas where trawling is restricted (c25% of the HGMP), the study was like bulldozing a regenerating forest to count the birds. A disgraceful act on private land let alone a national park.

How much seafloor was scraped?

The nets are massive, wider than a rugby field. FNZ were just interested in killing demersal fish (goundfish), they dragged theses massive nets along the seafloor smashing down anything that lives there and creating giant sediment plumes that contribute to climate change. In areas that have been closed to trawling for decades there are patches of horse mussel beds, sponge gardens and tubeworm mounds and other habitats regenerating after decades of abuse from heavy machinery. You can read about them in the report (NZFAR 2021) where they are described as ‘foul’ a horrible word which suggests there is something ugly about these beautiful benthic epifauna that are working hard (day and night) to clean up our pollution (they are nearly all filter feeding animals). In defense of FNZ they did try and avoid areas with a lot of immobile sea life but they failed so badly that they had to stop trawling on several occasions, this shows that a) the seafloor is recovering and b) echosound is no good for measuring trawling impact on benthic life.

Although the percent of trawled seafloor was small (less than 1% of the study area) the areas bottom trawled were huge:

39 rugby fields between Shakespear Regional Park and Rangitoto IslandStratum 1386
54 rugby fields of the inner Firth of ThamesStratum 1887
68 rugby fields of the mid Firth of ThamesStratum 1268
88 rugby fields in a west-east band North of Waiheke IslandStratum 2229
59 rugby fields around the western side of Waiheke IslandStratum 1149
41 rugby fields north of Whangaparāoa PeninsulaStratum 1284
40 rugby fields northwest CoromandelStratum 9292
60 rugby fields south of the line dividing the inner gulfStratum 1219
59 rugby fields from Bream Bay to MangawhaiStratum 1449
49 rugby fields between Aotea / Great Barrier Island and Ahuahu / Great Mercury IslandStratum COLV
77 rugby fields north of the line dividing the inner gulfStratum LITB

A total of 615 rugby fields, 381 of those fields had not been physically impacted by trawling for decades. The trawls were about 1/10th as long as a commercial trawl which may impact 1–10 km2 (MacDiarmid 2012). This is largely due to the horrific sediment plumes they create, especially on mud which most of the trawls in restricted areas were. This means the total trawl distance of 53.35km could have impacted up to 40km2 (6,349 rugby fields) of seafloor – choking animals and smothering plants.

The research trawler Kaharoa. Photo by Dave Allen (NIWA).
The research trawler Kaharoa. Photo by Dave Allen (NIWA).

So where were all the fish?

The average catch weight per trawling station in restricted areas was 500% higher than areas where bottom trawling is not restricted (1,033kgs vs only 171kgs). That’s a huge difference, the commercial fishers pulling up the nets must have been blown away with the haul! There was no significant difference in the size of the trawls but there was a big difference in depth. Trawls in trawling restricted areas averaged about half the depth (23m) of those in regularly trawled areas (47m). So are the fish benefiting more from trawling restrictions or depth?

Figure 1. Catch weight per station by depth in trawled areas. The red line predicts catch weight going down in deeper areas.
Figure 2. Catch weight per station by depth in areas where trawling is restricted. The red line predicts catch weight going down in deeper areas.

As you can see from Figure 1 & 2 there is no correlation between depth and catch weight (red line vs data). There could be many other factors involved (FNZ seemed to deliberately avoid trawling on sand in the inner Gulf so we can not directly compare substrates), but the 500% increase in catch weight in areas protected from trawling shows that protecting the seafloor from bottom trawling dramatically increases the amount of fish that live on the seafloor.

The survey is good news for recreational fishers who shouldn’t leave the inner Gulf to catch more Tāmure / Snapper. If you’re a fisher who wants to know where demersal fish are in the Gulf I recommend you read the report (NZFAR 2021). If you want to know which trawling station got the highest catch… I’m not telling! You will have to ask FNZ, you can send them an OIA request why don’t you tell them to stay out of the restricted areas and stop bottom impact fishing at the same time 😀

What happened to all the fish?

The total weight of fish (mostly Tāmure / Snapper) landed was 41,759 kilograms! 80% of the dead fish was sold for $128,449.35 which seems like a lot but with Tāmure at $20-$30 per kg at the supermarket they could have made more than one million dollars selling it direct to consumers. Of the total revenue from the two years of survey approximately 73% ($93,634.47) was absorbed in operation costs of the research vessel to process the catch. The remaining balance ($34,814.88) was returned to the Ministry of Primary Industry. That means even selling the dead fish dirt cheap the surveys make a profit for the Government. The self issued scientific permit to trawl in restricted areas is more profitable than some whaling trips the Japanese government justifies as science.

What else did they haul up?

I was surprised to see invasive species like Mediterranean fanworm (Sabella spallanzanii) turning up in the catch. They are very skinny and should fly through the nets. There must have been very dense beds in places. It was disappointing to hear from my Official Information Act request that Biosecurity New Zealand was not informed of which stations had high numbers of the Unwanted Organism. The lack of interagency communication (even with MPI) sucks but the double standard is worse. When restoring the seafloor from fishing damage the Mussel Reef Restoration Trust must notify an MPI technical officer if it accidentally releases an Unwanted Organism (a legal requirement of moving Unwanted Organisms under the Biosecurity Act 1993). Bottom trawlers however can move them around the Gulf with no regard to Biosecurity. This shows how Biosecurity NZ favours industry over community groups.

Will they do it again?

The surveys continue despite FNZ no longer having a public license to bottom trawl the HGMP. There is 84% public opposition to fishing methods that impact the seafloor (Hauraki Gulf Forum 2021). Most fisheries scientists take samples 100’s of times smaller or use baited underwater video cameras to count and measure fish. FNZ definitely don’t have a social license to trawl in restricted areas but they are ploughing on. Because I make a living doing science communication its not in my interests to criticise the research survey but I had to because I think what they are doing is wrong.


I included trawl stations in areas where Danish seining is allowed and trawling is restricted in the restricted totals. The three stations had an average catch weight that lowered the average restricted catch weight and increased the average catch depth.


Sea Change 2017. Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari Marine Spatial Plan. Hauraki Gulf Forum, Ministry for Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, Waikato Regional Council, Auckland Council. 2017.

MacDiarmid 2012. Assessment of anthropogenic threats to New Zealand marine habitats. A. MacDiarmid. New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report No. 93 2012

NZFAR 2021. New Zealand Fisheries Assessment Report 2021/08. Trawl surveys of the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty in 2019 and 2020 to estimate the abundance of juvenile snapper. 2021.

Hauraki Gulf Forum 2021. Results of Hauraki Gulf Poll by Alex Rogers. The Gulf Journal Accessed December 2021

NIWA 2019. NIWA to survey young snapper in Hauraki Gulf. Accessed December 2021.

NZ Sports Fishing Council rejects Govt action plan

In the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s agenda for August 23 (Page 177) the New Zealand Sports Fishing Council have rejected the Government’s response to Sea Change. This is a shame because although the plan is weak, short on detail and very late, it’s still the best proposal we have for slowing the decline of the Gulf.

Here are the points they make with some commentary from me. I have written them up for my own understanding. TL;DR The measurable cuts to recreational fishing were not matched by measurable cuts to commercial fishing. This is true but the lack of detail in the plan should be an opportunity for NZSFC to work with Government on scaling back commercial impacts through the development of the fisheries plan and defining the bottom impact fishing areas.

“The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council (NZSFC) rejects the Government’s Revitalising the Gulf proposal on the basis that it does not go far enough.”

‘Not going far enough’ is a poor reason to not to improve something.

“The vision and purpose of the Sea Change plan has been lost. A series of State of the Gulf reports chronicles a steady loss of abundance and diversity, and describes an emerging crisis that threatens the very functionality of the marine ecosystem within the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.”

Agreed, the reports also show Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) are the best proven solution to minimising the impact of sports fishing.

“The Revitalising the Gulf plan is a compromised and biased proposal, an insult to all who gave so freely of their time over the years to contribute to a comprehensive plan.”

I understand how outraged they are but this is not a helpful or constructive statement.

“One of the key aspects agreed by the Sea Change contributors was that the plan was not to be cherry picked. The Revitalising the Gulf proposal does just that, thus destroying any good faith, goodwill achieved at the collaborative, negotiated and consensus driven Stakeholder Working Group process. A process that enjoyed widespread trust and support.”

I agree that the compromises made were not honoured. The very first principle is: “The Plan is developed as an integrated package to be implemented as a “whole”. Those implementing the Plan should not pick and choose between the proposed actions.” The plan was ‘non-statutory’ meaning not required or meaningful in law. This made it toothless, NZSFC’s rejection of the Government’s response is a significant failure. The Ministers decided that some commercial compromises were too high. The analysis of this is suspiciously missing from the Ministerial Advisory Committee report. The analysis needs to be better represented in future marine spatial planing processes.

“The only major aspects that made it through the officials’ vetting process is a series of ‘high protection’ areas (HPAs) lacking any ancillary management measures that would give them a chance of success. The Government would be wise to do nothing if that response is all that can be managed.”

The ancillary measures are SPAs (Seafloor Protection Areas) and a Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Management Plan (HGFMP) they know this, so it’s a weird thing to say. The proposed HPAs have been analysed and they are big enough to allow for lots of recreational fishing on the borders. The only threat to the success of the HPAs is customary take which DOC is working to define.

This entire exercise confirms that Government agencies are unable to work in concert for the benefit of the HGMP.

Not really, it would be more accurate to say that Fisheries NZ are a much stronger department with more staff and money, Fisheries NZ are “captured by industry” David Parker 2016.

“The tension between fisheries and conservation holds the Hauraki Gulf to ransom.

I don’t understand what the ransom is, but a network of Marine Protected Areas will increase abundance due to spillover. “Thirty six 30cm Tamureproduce the same amount of eggs as one 70cm Tamure.”Auckland University Research.

Fisheries giving up some areas but not any catch, which simply exacerbates the depletion and habitat loss in the remainder of the Marine Park.

I disagree, yes the HPAs will shift effort but they will increase abundance due to spill-over. The concerns around cuts to catch are valid but it would be more constructive to ask for a lower the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in the HGFMP. Note that the HGFMP design should be ecosystems based, I would be interested in a critique of the HGFMP from an ecosystems perspective. Auckland University is well placed to do this but I imagine they will need a lot more detail that what has been published in the draft plan (page 107 of Revitalising the Gulf).

The Revitalising the Gulf plan is not about restoring the historic mauri of the HGMP or addressing future climate change.

I agree that it’s irresponsible for govt to exclude climate change from the HGFMP.

It is about clinging to fishing practices long known to destroy habitat while maintaining catches at historic levels, the same levels that have bought us to this point of depletion and degradation.

Here NZSFC are talking about commercial bottom impact fishing (trawling and dredging). Sea Change sought to phase out these destructive practices. They need to stop for the health of the Gulf to recover.

Large public investments were made in crafting a spatial plan that would reverse the decades-long trend of biodiversity loss. This investment has been squandered.

I think the plan should have been more science led. The weak decisions around commercial bottom impact fishing have dramatically lowered the impact of the plan. It’s frustrating that Government has not announced the bottom impact fishing areas so we can quantify how much has been ‘squandered’.

Sadly, the Government’s proposal is long on rhetoric, short on action and even shorter on logic. If Revitalising the Gulf proceeds, the HGMP will remain gridlocked with its governance via three Acts of Parliament and no effective management.

I think they just mean they want the fish that are currently going to commercial fisheries. I partially agree, each fish has more value when killed by a recreational fisher but it also cost more to catch both in terms of environmental impact (carbon emissions, resources mined for fancy boats, oil spilt, fish injured, etc) as well as cash spent.

“The Revitalising the Gulf plan is contrary to the clearly defined purposes of the HGMP Act, including the need to sustaining in perpetuity the life-supporting capacity of all the natural systems in the Gulf.

It would be more useful to say ‘Commercial fishing is contrary to HGMP Act purposes’. This is true, in 2015 National floated the idea of turning it into a recreational fishing park as an election bribe but then dropped the idea. Probably because lots of people, like the Hauraki Gulf Forum wanted the ecosystem to be valued above fishing. “The recreational fishing park is flawed because it’s being presented as a marine protected area when it’s not. Recreational fishing pressure is intense and, unchecked, has a major impact on environmental health.”Mayor John Tregidga, Chair, Hauraki Gulf Forum 2016.

It would be more useful if the HGMP Act had a statement like ‘Te Mana o te Wai’ that puts ecosystems first. Words like ‘sustain’ and ‘maintain’ are not useful for those seeking to increase abundance because fish populations can be legally managed at incredibly low levels.

“The Revitalising the Gulf plan is a win for industrial fishing interests and a loss for the people of the Hauraki Gulf and the marine environment.

I agree that the continuation of industrial bottom impact fishing is a big win for industry, I would love to know how they pulled that off. The government needs to be more transparent about the process and include recreational and environmental views in the discussions around bottom impact fishing areas and the development of the HGFMP. FNZ officers have told me this will not happen for dredging.

Reasons for rejecting. Our reasons for rejecting the Revitalising the Gulf plan include but are not limited to the following:

I agree with many of these points but I would not reject a plan that started eight years ago and won’t be acted for another three years. I would just start a new plan to address the remaining issues. Waikato Regional Council has started a planning process that could address their concerns.

Failure to fulfil the purposes of the HGMP Act

Yes, commercial uses are not mentioned.

Failure to remove bottom trawling and Danish seining. Failure to acknowledge the need to limit the effects of climate change by reducing the carbon emissions attributed to trawling and dredging in the Gulf.

Agreed and hot topic, Govt asleep at the wheel here.

“Failure to remove scallop dredging.”


“Failure to remove purse seining.

Agreed, the review of purse seining impacts is also missing, while the catch has dramatically increased.

Failure to create a separate Fisheries Management Area (FMA) for the Hauraki Gulf so precautionary catch limits can be applied and adjusted in a reasonable and responsible timeframe.

Officials need to better explain how they can operate a HGFMP with no FMA. It will be an area-based plan authorised under section 11A of the Fisheries Act 1996.

No attempt to address the need for improved management, of recreational fishing in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Yes a science led MPA network would really help here, along with much lower Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and a raft of other changes suggested by NZSFC and environmental groups that have been ignored by FNZ for decades. As it stands the HGFMP is very business as usual, I would love to see NZSFC and other groups rewrite it.

Failure to take a holistic approach to marine protection, with no integrated, meaningful fisheries management changes alongside the HPAs.

Not a very specific request, I assume it’s the Rescue Fish Policy.

Failure to acknowledge the tension that will arise if Maori customary food gathering is permitted in ‘high protection areas’ while public fishing is prohibited.

I agree this is problematic, along with conflict between customary take and no-harm divers and snorkelers in HPAs.

The short sighted ‘protection at all costs’ bias that sees the far-sighted Special Management Area (SMA) concept discarded. The economy of such high value, low extraction fishing activity that currently occurs at the Mokohinau and Alderman Islands, and that would be permitted under the SMA concept, has been dismissed by officials ‘because it focuses on the management of use’.

I don’t understand this as the plan states the Government “will explore the Sea Change Plan’s Special Management Area (SMA) tool”.

There is no provision for an Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Revitalising the Gulf plan.

EIAs are expensive, they did rough costs of the short term losses for the HPAs. They can’t do an EIA when they haven’t even decided where they might reduce some commercial fishing yet. A better criticism would be on the lack of plan in the plan.

There is no provision for an assessment of the social and cultural impacts of the Revitalising the Gulf plan.

This is a nice idea, I don’t know what it would look like, but could be included in the State of the Gulf reporting.

Failure to consider the effects of fishing on the marine ecosystem – While the Gulf snapper stock may be slowly rebuilding, the prospects are not good for crayfish, paua, scallops, mussels, tarakihi, John dory, gurnard, kahawai, trevally, porae and all the ‘red fish’ that have attracted so much attention recently.

Yes, these should be addressed in the HGFMP.

This post was featured on the Gulf Journal.