Protecting the whitebait fishery in New Zealand

Whitebait are a New Zealand delicacy. Every year hundreds of people try their hand at catching the tasty translucent morsels that enter our coastal waterways. On the market, a kilogram of whitebait may fetch N.Z.$90.

Whitebait patties are how most whitebait that are caught end up. Their popularity is enduring by virtue of the relative ease and speed of making them. They were the entree at the A.P.E.C. 1999 State Banquet held for the then United States President Bill Clinton and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

But whitebait are in danger of extinction. Their immense popularity, damage to their habitat and (this is debatable)over fishing of the delicacy, which have five subspecies in New Zealand – climbing galaxias, common galaxias, banded kokopu, shortjaw kokopu and giant kokopu have brought about severe challenges for a popular recreational past time. This has brought with it, talk of possibly closing the fishery for a period of one or two years during which there is a complete ban on whitebaiting, with the idea being that whitebait would be able to regain some of their population.

Whitebait habitat damage, and in particular their spawning grounds is the most serious threat they face. A spawning ground might be only a couple standard glass houses in area, but in that area tens of thousands of whitebait will be depositing their eggs, and the destruction of that one spawning ground might be the difference between whether or not that particular river/stream/creek/estuary/lagoon has a meaningful whitebait population the following year.

I and my father whitebait each year. We have no problems with compliance and follow local regulations specific to the Canterbury area and fisheries. We do it because we enjoy eating whitebait and are not there to make a profit from doing so, which some are – our purpose has always been to put food on the table, which is what I believe all hunting and fishing should be about. We do not leave any litter or other debris behind that might enter their habitat and cause adverse effects.

Pollutants entering the habitat – cigarette butts, plastics, and so forth – are another threat that needs to be considered. This is a general common pollution issue that should be dealt with separately by way of enforcement action by local council rangers. Fines and – most appropriately – making the offender participate in a rubbish clean up would be a good way of getting the message across.

No quotas exist for whitebaiters. It is debatable whether there needs to be quotas. One will immediately ask, if quotas exist, how are they going to be enforced and the only answer from hard experience is by ground enforcement on the spot. There would need to be many rangers enforcing the quotas and there is a possibility that they would – like anyone involved in law enforcement – possibly have to deal with hostile people. The quota size itself would also be up for debate. Sometimes several kilogrammes of whitebait might be caught each day, and then there might be none or little for several days or even weeks – nearly all we caught this year was taken in the final week of the season.

Whitebaiters are permitted to whitebait from dawn to dusk. They are allowed nets and gobi’s (nylon fencing on poles)that extend from the net to the shore. The combined net/gobi arrangement cannot take up more than 1/3 of a channel width and must be manned at all times. A whitebait net cannot be less than 20 metres from another whitebait net. The season start time varies from one region to the next – the Canterbury one started in mid-August and ended at sunset 30 November.

I don’t want any children I might eventually have or anyone else who has children to be denied the opportunity to show them an easy and fun – albeit sometimes patience testing – mode of fishing. So, let us enjoy our whitebait, but apply a bit of common sense and protect the habitats, don’t take more than you want to use and respect the other whitebaiters who have come to try their luck.

Common sense really.

The need for a Kermadec ocean sanctuary

I was disappointed to see in the Sunday Star Times today that New Zealand First have shown resistance to the idea of an ocean sanctuary. The comments in the Sunday Star Times, which allegedly caught the Green Party unawares, point to a potential hurdle in the future that the new Government will not be able to bypass.

New M.P. and former Labour M.P. Shane Jones, who is a potential cabinet member of the new Labour led minority Government, disclosed before the election that Sealord and Talleys were bankrolling his election campaign in Whangarei. Mr Jones who has extensive links to Iwi and backs customary fishing rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and fellow New Zealand First Members of Parliament have been described as close to the fishing industry.

Given the lack of regard shown for the marine environment around the world, there is a strong case for an ocean sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when the outgoing National Government in 2015 announced that New Zealand would commit to an ocean sanctuary covering the Kermadec Islands. It would not permit mining, oil extraction or fishing. The sanctuary would cover the oceans around islands such as Raoul and Curtiss Island.

This is also why I support the need for a blue water navy. Defence policy aside, New Zealand has a vast economic exclusion zone that is prone to being raided by illegals who have no legitimate business in New Zealand waters. The proposed ocean sanctuary covering the Kermadec Islands would not be exempt from the potential ravages of these raiders. A blue water navy with appropriate surveillance, backed by a strong judicial system would show raiders that if they conduct their illegal business in N.Z. waters, there will be a price to pay.

Despite the Green Party saying that they are confident that an appropriate outcome can be achieved, I have concerns about how any agreement will be passed into law, and whether it will be effective in protecting the marine ecosystem.


Trump quits Climate Accord; World forges ahead

Yesterday I mentioned the role of the gases linked to climate change in causing acidification of the oceans and how it could wreck the food chain. I mentioned the potential economic consequences in Queensland of not doing more to protect the oceans.

Now United States President Donald Trump has walked away from the Paris Climate Accord. Citing the supposed economic toll to the United States if it continues working on the Accord, the United States Government has shown its preference for fossil fuels at a time when major in roads are being made into renewable fuels, more efficient methods of electricity generation and the rise of the electric car. Mr Trump has demonstrated a callous disregard for an environmental crisis where the overwhelming majority of scientists believe gas emissions from excessive fossil fuel burning is the cause of a major rise

But not all is lost. Even as the United States Government refused to have any more to do with it, a revolt is spreading across America. 61 cities decided to support the Paris Climate Accord anyway. On the world stage other big players including China, the European Union and even Australia – better known for deriding the Paris Climate Accord and the preceding Kyoto Climate Protocol – stepped up and indicated they would honour their commitments.

In New Zealand, despite the mediocre efforts made by this Government to date and the inability of the Opposition to gain traction in Parliament, the commitment to reduce our contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions equation has not changed.  In terms of going forward, I believe there are a significant range of energy sources that New Zealand could be significantly investing more into. Namely:

  • Biofuel
  • Tidal power
  • Solar

There are also a number of steps that could be taken to reduce the power footprint in New Zealand.

A Green audit done over a decade ago suggested that between 15-20% of New Zealand’s power usage was avoidable. If that is still the case today, with an installed generation capacity of 9637 megawatts, between about 7700 and 8200 megawatts would be needed if all of this could be saved.

Another step that could be taken is retrofitting. Retrofitting all large facilities such as hospitals, University buildings, airports with energy saving mechanisms such as automatic sensors which turn lights out after a certain time. If this were done with an incentive such as being able to keep the savings made by such investment, these would pay for themselves fairly quickly.

A third step that could be taken is enabling individuals who want to contribute power to the grid to do so without punishment. In January the Electricity Authority ruled against Solar Energy New Zealand, which had complained about the tariffs imposed by Unison Network Limited on retailers with residential customers on S.E.N.Z.’s network.

But overall there needs to be a blue print that could have been finished by now for looking forward into the future. We as a nation need to reduce our gas emissions just as we need to tackle the acidification from the ocean that is also aggravated by these gases.


Climate change gases also attacking the oceans

Acidification of the ocean.

Other than having something to do with acid, acidification of the ocean is a poorly known – despite publicity in recent years – phenomena and an even more poorly understood one in the public eye.

But it is a very important one. Acidification of the ocean is one of the primary dangers threatening the global environment. It is a threat so huge that as we wait to see whether United States President Donald Trump will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, I am more and more coming around to the opinion that there needs to be a summit on ocean acidification and it needs to have the whole world on board.

But it needs to go further than a world wide talk fest and document writing spree.

The problem is that the pH scale which measures alkalinity and acidity is showing a sustained decline. It used to be 8.1, which is slightly alkalinic, but has now dropped to 8.0. This might seem minor and you might ask why the importance of this drop. The ph scale is logarithmic. So what that .1 really means is that there has been a 1000% or 10 fold increase in the acidity of the ocean.

What does it mean for marine life? The National Institute of Water and Atmospherics says that those life forms that rely on calcium carbonate shells for protection of their organs will find it increasingly difficult to maintain them as the acidity will act as a corrosive agent.

To me, in some respects this is a bigger threat to humans than climate change. The gases that are linked to climate change are still disputed in some quarters, in terms of how they are affecting the atmosphere. But the damage of acidification in the oceans is glaringly clear. You can see it in coral reefs, particularly in the Australian Great Barrier Reef, where the risk is growing that a bleaching event will cause irreversible damage to vast sections of the reef and may ultimately endanger it as a habitat.

In Australia the Great Barrier Reef is of vital importance to Queensland’s tourism industry. A survey commissioned recently showed that many Chinese tourists would not visit Australia at all if they could not see the Great Barrier Reef. Nationalities from other nations said they would visit, but would not go to Queensland. Such a reaction would potentially cost the sunshine state billions of dollars in lost revenue.

But there is more to the danger that acidification of the oceans poses than just to coral reefts. In effect, if one gives it long enough, it could collapse the entire marine ecosystem or at the least cause massive disruption to the food chain.

My point is simple: we can either ease up on the carbon emissions despite not being totally clear about the climate change aspect, or we can not only have potential climate change issues, but we will also have a marine ecosystem emergency. It is because of this potential double whammy that I am convinced, climate change or not, we need to act.


Protecting our marine environment

We love our oceans. From across their vast waters came both the Maori who settled New Zealand between about 800-1000AD and the settlers who settled New Zealand. There also came the wave of British post war wave of refugees fleeing a desolate continent. We delight in racing yachts, catching fish, surfing, swimming amonst other activities. But how well do we understand those waters, the ecosystem underneath and its importance to this maritime nation? And what can New Zealanders do to reduce the impact of our environmental failures.

The short answer is we as a nation do NOT understand our marine ecosystem and its considerable importance any more than any other nation on the planet.

We do not understand the cost of acidification causing coral reefs to die out, the fact that this is already happening. The bleaching of the Australian Great Barrier reef is the excess in the carbon component  Increasingly large ships with their ability to track down are seeking to undermine a host of small towns.So, who will pay for the clean up and make sure that the reactors never suffered a “I need to be getting out of here, moment”.