Better environmental performance
New Zealand's aquatic environment is valuable for many reasons - not least for its role in the production of fisheries resources - and its long-term health is an important part of the Government's sustainable development goals. Fishing is one of a number of human activities that have the potential to affect parts of the aquatic environment significantly.
Historically, most fisheries management systems have started with a focus on individual target stocks. Good management of target fish stocks is fundamental to managing the broader environmental effects of fishing - but it is not enough. Worldwide, there is increasing recognition of the need to manage the effects of fishing on ecosystems. Society increasingly demands that fishing be "environmentally friendly". For example there is strong demand in developed nations for "dolphin friendly" tuna, and a concerted call by some NGOs in recent years for fishing methods such as bottom trawling to be banned. This is both a threat and an opportunity for New Zealand fisheries depending on our response. Recent publications and conferences have highlighted the potential adverse effects of fishing practices and extensive work is being undertaken on methods to manage these effects.
Management of environmental effects typically address the effects of fishing on icon non-target species such as marine mammals and birds, and major fish by-catch species. Some have started to address the effects of fishing on benthic habitats. Only a few have developed as far as addressing indirect effects of fishing on marine ecosystems such as those occurring through the food chain.
New Zealand, like many other countries, has put in place legislation intended to ensure that fishing does not unreasonably affect the environment. The Fisheries Act establishes strong environmental obligations, including requirements to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects of fishing on the aquatic environment, meet the foreseeable needs of future generations, and be cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate.
A number of initiatives to address specific environmental issues related to fishing have been put in place, including closed areas, fishing method restrictions, observer programmes, marine mammal by-catch limits, and requirements to use by-catch mitigation devices. However, to date, these initiatives have been largely reactive and lack overall coordination.
An intention to make substantial progress in the area of managing environmental effects was signalled in the Ministry of Fisheries' 1998-2003 Strategic Plan, and confirmed in the Ministry's 2005/08 Statement of Intent. The Ministry has a number of initiatives under way designed to improve environmental performance.
The Strategy for Managing the Environmental Effects of Fishing, released in August 2005, sets out the approach by which the Ministry will manage environmental effects. The primary purpose of the Strategy is to provide policies through which the Ministry can meet its environmental obligations in the Fisheries Act in an efficient and consistent manner. The Strategy is also designed to provide for coordination of Fisheries Act environmental obligations with environmental obligations under other relevant legislation. Effective implementation of Fisheries Act environmental obligations will enable New Zealand to meet its international obligations to implement an ecosystem approach to fisheries.
The Ministry of Fisheries also operates NABIS (National Aquatic Biodiversity Information System) which is a web-based geographical information system used to describe the location of key marine environmental resources. Information held in NABIS is used for a variety of purposes including fisheries/biodiversity planning, monitoring and policy development. The system currently contains data layers describing the distribution of 216 fish and invertebrate species, 110 seabird species, as well as information on marine mammal breeding colonies, fisheries management areas, and other contextual information such as bathymetry.
Other relevant initiatives recently implemented or under development include:
- the Marine Protected Area Policy and Implementation Plan
- the National Plan of Action to reduce the incidental catch of seabirds in New Zealand Fisheries
- National Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks
- framework to manage effects of fishing on benthic habitats
- a range of research projects investigating the effects of fishing on the aquatic environment
- Oceans 20/20 inter-agency ocean exploration initiative involving ecological zone mapping.