I am still reeling from an announcement made yesterday by the Minster of Fisheries and Aquaculture Phil Heatley regarding the setting of the total allowable “catch” for giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). I thought I might try and calm down a little before I wrote this post, but the 20 or so emails that greeted me this morning from marine ecologists throughout the country made me realise that I am definitely not alone in feeling completely frustrated and disillusioned about the process of consultation and setting of catch limits for some of the species managed under the Quota Management System (QMS).
Just a little bit of background first. Last year the Ministry of Fisheries, following a period of consultation, entered giant kelp into the QMS (I wrote about this at the time: “One step closer to harvesting kelp“). It was a tough one for those concerned about the important ecological role that this species plays (perhaps most obviously in providing a home and food source for countless marine animals) – if the species wasn’t entered into the QMS, expiration of a harvesting moratorium would mean that there were no controls on the amount of kelp that could be literally mowed from kelp forests around the South Island. A second round of consultation followed earlier this year, where the Ministry produced three options for total allowable catch for the management area that extends from a point near Kaikoura all the way down to Slope Point at the southern most tip of the South Island. These options were 1) 375.8 tonnes, 2) 40 tonnes, and 3) 17 tonnes.
Given the paucity of scientific knowledge about the effects of removing the canopy of kelp forests on the species that rely on this habitat and food source, myself and a great number of marine scientists argued that a cautious approach should be taken and thus the catch limits set very low – at least until our scientific understanding improves. If you are interested in the current state of knowledge and concerns that many scientists have, I wrote an extensive post on this last year – “Is it wise to mow our kelp forests?”
Anyway, moving right along, I was more than a little shall we say… surprised… to read the Minister’s announcement yesterday that the total allowable catch for the east coast of the South Island had been set at… wait for it…. 1,238 tonnes!!! TA DAAAAA!!!! But hang on a minute, wasn’t the largest option put forward by his own advisors 375.8 tonnes? Well yes. But, well, what would they know? Now I obviously don’t have a good understanding of how this process works. What is the point of asking for submissions about a range of catch options if you are only going to dream up a completely new figure? How can this be legal?!
But, rest easy my friends, the Ministry of Fisheries Chief Executive Wayne McNee said ’The Minister was very mindful of the important role bladder kelp plays in the ecosystem and has imposed conservative controls on harvest to make sure this role is not compromised.’ Oh PHEW! Here I was thinking that it must all be about money.
It takes a lot of time and research to write a submission that is based on current scientific knowledge. I personally feel like the effort that my colleagues and I put into this process was a complete and utter waste of time. If anyone can enlighten me as to how this ‘game’ works, I would really appreciate it. But perhaps more importantly, we need to start seriously thinking about ways to protect our local kelp forests – it is not only scientists that should be worried about the imminent threat that they now face. Recreational and commercial fishers, divers, coastal dwellers: this is very much your problem too.
Grrr grrr grrrr, over and out.