Oceans and Fisheries: Our vision for healthy and productive oceans

Oceans and Fisheries

Speech notes for Hon David Parker's address to Forest and Bird Conference


I would like to thank Forest and Bird for the opportunity to speak today at your annual conference, and acknowledge your consistent, long-term commitment to oceans and fisheries issues.

As you know, the oceans define our way of life in New Zealand—they determine our climate, and are essential to our way of life recreationally and economically.

Their biodiversity is immense. In New Zealand, we hold special obligations as kaitiaki of a large population of the world’s seabirds like albatross and petrels.    

I certainly don’t need to detail to this audience all the myriad challenges facing our ocean ecosystems.   

We know that our activities on land and at sea, and their cumulative impacts, are negatively affecting the marine environment. And that as climate change accelerates, the situation will only worsen.

These challenges also do not end at the 200 nautical mile limit of our maritime boundaries. Actions in New Zealand have far-reaching effects in the global ocean ecosystem. The health of New Zealand’s marine environment also contributes to the health of the rest of the world.  

Increased pressures and demands have been, and will continue to be, placed on the oceans threatening the biodiversity and ecological integrity of many marine ecosystems, including the role of fisheries. Healthy ecosystems rely upon healthy fisheries and healthy fisheries rely upon healthy ecosystems.

Our management system has been largely successful at addressing simple, sector-specific issues but has developed in a piecemeal way to address particular problems.

It has difficulty with managing the complexity of interacting pressures and conflicting uses. It doesn’t provide a clear sense of outcomes or a framework for making decisions when those conflicts arise.

The creation of the Oceans and Fisheries portfolio, for which I am the Minister, signals this Government’s commitment to a more holistic, integrated approach to managing our oceans.

The Prime Minister asked me to take on this portfolio, I think, because I'm a Minister with inter-related portfolios who can see the connections and the possibilities for co-ordination of effort.

I would like to share with you the Government’s ambition for the Oceans and Fisheries portfolio, including some of the recent announcements I have made.

Vision and underlying objectives/principles for the Oceans and Fisheries portfolio

Cabinet has recently approved a vision for the portfolio of ­­­­­­­­­– ensuring the long-term health and resilience of ocean and coastal ecosystems, including the role of fisheries

This vision is a statement of our collective responsibility for the stewardship of healthy and productive oceans.

People may come from different positions on the use and protection of ocean and coastal ecosystems, but we all want healthy oceans and to safeguard their life-supporting capacity.

The vision draws upon the extensive Oceans Policy process in the early 2000s, the direction of travel for resource management reform and the lessons learned over several decades about managing our marine environment. 

It is focused on ocean ecosystem health because that is the wider context within which we need to operate. We need to have resilient and healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems to provide for us now and for future generations.

There are a range of values and aspirations in relation to the marine environment, and this vision is capable of including and accommodating these.

The creation of this portfolio is an opportunity to recognise the value of our oceans, and carefully use and protect them in a way that doesn’t take away from future generations.

We must continue to meet the challenges before us with foresight, sound science, strategic use of natural capital and a deep commitment to making tangible progress. 

We want our policies and management responses to be more proactive and integrated. We need a framework that helps ensure decisions about them are coherent, and that they all head in the same direction.

With that in mind, we aim to:

  • Promote an ecosystem-based approach to research, monitoring and management;
  • Establish a spatial planning framework that optimises the protection and use of marine space and resources; and,
  • Support the development of a high-value marine economy that provides equitable wellbeing benefits.

Work under the new portfolio will be guided by several principles to ensure that we meet our objectives. These principles are:

  • Apply a precautionary and adaptive management approach;
  • Ensure equitable allocation of costs and benefits;
  • Give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi, including through fisheries and aquaculture settlements and other legislation;
  • Make decisions based on sound science and traditional knowledge;
  • Manage marine resources consistent with international commitments; and,
  • Provide inclusive, transparent and effective public participation processes.

There are already several conservation, environment and fisheries initiatives underway that will contribute to achieving the objectives, and my oceans and fisheries work programme reflects this. It provides for better protection for marine ecosystems, fisheries system reforms, and the development of open ocean aquaculture.

Over the next year, the Minister of Conservation and I will be assessing how far the initial work programme goes in realising the vision and objectives, and what future longer-term work is necessary.

We have established an Oceans Secretariat hosted at the Department of Conservation, comprising officials from DOC, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the Ministry for the Environment.

The new Oceans Secretariat will support collaboration and coordination by providing enhanced governance for significant marine initiatives, and the sharing of resources and expertise.

I recognise that more may need to be done. These first steps are about establishing a strong foundation for future improvements. I’d also like to speak to some of the significant work already underway reflected in some of our Government’s recent decisions. 

Marine protection initiatives

Antipodean albatross

June 19th was World Albatross Day with the theme ‘Ensuring Albatross-Friendly Fisheries’, to recognise the number of albatross and petrels killed in fisheries, and the efforts being made to combat this.

The Minister of Conservation and I are working closely to reduce bycatch of seabirds. The current population decline is particularly concerning for a long-lived and slow-breeding species like the Antipodean albatross.

The current decline means that over the next three generations, the Antipodean albatross will be on the verge of extinction if we don’t take action both here and internationally.

We have an action plan aiming to reduce domestic bycatch to zero, and as part of the Government’s commitment to protecting our marine environment for future generations, we have just announced funding for a wider roll-out of cameras on inshore fishing vessels.

Hector’s and Māui Dolphins

In the last term, the Government adopted a threat management plan which strengthened protections for Hector’s and Māui dolphins.

The fishing measures introduced included an extension of set-net closures and creation of new areas closed to set-netting, an extension of trawling restrictions off the west coast of the North Island, and safeguards to allow further restrictions if a single dolphin is caught in the Māui dolphin habitat within the west coast of the North Island.

17,530 square kilometres now have trawl closures and restrictions and 31,500 square kilometres are closed to set-netting.

A significant non-fishing threat to Māui and Hector’s dolphins is toxoplasmosis. The Department of Conservation has launched a Toxoplasmosis Action Plan to investigate and trial solutions to reduce or eliminate the transfer of the parasite to the marine environment. 

The Government has also backed new technologies such as drones to transform our understanding and protection of the Māui dolphin. On-board cameras for commercial fishing vessels with the greatest risk of encountering Māui are already in place.

This technology has the potential to compile detailed data on the habitats, population size and distribution and behaviour of the dolphins, along with many other types of marine species such as other dolphins, seabirds, and whales.

By advancing our understanding of how Māui dolphins behave during the day and throughout the year, this project will help us ensure that the measures our Government has already put in place to protect our Māui dolphins are robust and appropriate.

Revitalising the Gulf – Government response Strategy to Sea Change Plan

Together with the Acting Minister of Conservation, I was pleased to launch last week the Government’s strategy in response to the Sea Change plan for the Hauraki Gulf.

New Zealand has known for some time that the health of the Gulf is in decline. Despite significant efforts to manage the pressures on the Gulf, successive reports produced on behalf of the Hauraki Gulf Forum have highlighted that the decline continues and more needs to be done.

Our strategy sets out a package of fisheries management and marine conservation actions to restore the waiora (health) and mauri (life force) of the Hauraki Gulf.

It includes increasing marine protection in the region almost threefold from just over 6 per cent to almost 18 per cent.  In addition there will be a ban on bottom trawling other than in defined “trawl corridors”.  It also freezes the footprint of commercial scallop dredging and stops recreational scallop dredging. It includes actions across protected species, habitat restoration, and proposes localised marine management with mana whenua and local communities (the concept of Ahu Moana).

Over 50 customary, commercial and recreational fisheries management actions will be packaged in the first-of-its-kind area-based Fisheries Plan for the Hauraki Gulf, to be finalised in June 2022.

The actions complement existing Government initiatives such as the Essential Freshwater package and the Productive and Sustainable Land Use package. These are needed to reduce sediment loads in places like the Firth of Thames. They work alongside initiatives led by regional and district councils and community groups.

We will deliver the new marine protection areas and fisheries management package over the next three years. It is crucial that this suite of actions works for people. We will be seeking further input from mana whenua and stakeholders, and we will publicly consult on the protected areas and the Fisheries Plan.

South East Marine Protection

At the other end of the country, the Minister of Conservation and I are also working on progressing the South East Marine Protection proposals on the Otago coast.

We are working closely with Ngāi Tahu as part of this.

As you know, we publicly consulted on proposals last year and received over 4,000 submissions.

I expect advice to the Minister of Conservation and myself on the proposals and the submissions in due course.

Fisheries reform agenda

I will now speak to some key changes to the fisheries system.

Change is needed to address localised depletion and seabed habitat effects, and respond to increasing and cumulative pressures on the marine environment from land-based effects and climate change. Changes also address the discards and high grading practices highlighted by the report of Mike Heron QC in 2016.

Two key areas of change better align incentives to drive more selective fishing and move towards more ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, working alongside local communities.

On-Board Cameras

Up to 300 inshore commercial fishing vessels will be fitted with on-board cameras by 2024 as part of the Government’s commitment to protect the natural marine environment for future generations.

On-board cameras will provide independent, accurate information about commercial fishing activity. That will provide greater certainty and more evidence on which to base decisions about policy and regulation, scientific research, and fisheries management.

Cameras will work together with the digital tracking and reporting already in place to provide an important layer of transparency.

The roll-out will be staged to prioritise those vessels that pose the greatest risk to protected species such as Hector’s and Māui dolphins, black petrels and Antipodean albatross. When complete, cameras will record activity on vessels responsible for about 85 per cent of the inshore catch by volume.

Other policy and legislative changes

I am also making other legislative and policy changes to strengthen the rules governing fisheries management.

A key change will be tightening and simplifying rules around what fish must be landed and what can be returned to the sea. The current rules around discarding fish have been inconsistent.  

Numerous reports have demonstrated evidence of illegal discarding in New Zealand fisheries and there is no doubt this has been a significant issue that must be addressed.

Tightening and simplifying the rules around landings and discards and what can be legally returned to the sea will help incentivise fishers to catch only the fish they want, and to find ways to avoid catching the smaller or economically low-value fish.

The introduction of cameras will ensure that the rules are being followed. They will also increase the likelihood of any offences being detected. To reflect that, I will introduce a more graduated penalties regime to better reflect smaller-scale offending. The most serious offending will still attract the biggest penalties.

Changes are also being made to enable faster responses to new information about the quantity of fish by allowing for pre-agreed changes to catch limits.

It will take time to make these changes happen on the water. We will be working with our Treaty partners, industry and other stakeholders like yourselves during that period.

These are significant changes and together will take us closer to a more ecosystem-based approach to managing our fisheries.

Response to the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Report

I want to acknowledge the significant work carried out by Professor Dame Juliet Gerrard, who spoke earlier in the conference, and her Office, on the publication of the report on Commercial Fishing. I also acknowledge Craig Ellison for his wise input.

The report makes a range of recommendations across oceans leadership and strategy, taking a connected world view, improving regulatory tools, data systems, research and innovation, and taking an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

The report recommends taking immediate, evidence-based action. While the full Government response is being prepared, you can see from recent announcements that a number of work streams are already underway to progress the report’s recommendations.

These work streams focus on identifying and protecting habitats of particular significance, supporting innovation in fishing, and increasing the availability of fisheries information. This will set a strong foundation for the Government’s future response. 

Links to Resource Management Reform

Strengthening fisheries management and marine protection are only part of the solution to healthier oceans. Many of the issues that impact on our marine environment come from the land, for example sedimentation.

Initiatives that address land-based impacts, such as the Government’s Freshwater reforms, will be important for improving our coastal and marine environment.

Reform of the resource management system will also play an important role in managing activities in the coastal marine area and the effects of land use on the marine environment.

The Government plans to repeal and replace the Resource Management Act. We will enact new legislation including the proposed Natural and Built Environment Act (NBA), the Strategic Planning Act and a response to climate change.

An exposure draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act will be considered by a select committee inquiry in the very near future and I encourage you all to provide feedback during this time.


I hope you can see that we have been working very hard and taking a number of significant steps.

More is to be done, and it will take the support of all New Zealanders working together.

The stakes are high. Most New Zealanders live near the coast and the sea is central to our national identity. It has immense cultural value for all New Zealanders and has provided kaimoana and enjoyment for as long as people have lived here.

I am confident we are working from a strong foundation with broad support across all sectors. Together, we can make a genuine and lasting difference for current and future generations.