Speech to the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society

Oceans and Fisheries

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Kia ora koutou.

Thank you, Lee Rauhina-August,  Mark Fenwick, Professor Louise Dixon, the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society, and the conference organisers for the invitation to speak today.

I don’t come to this just from the point of view of a politician. Most of you probably don’t know that while I was studying arcane yet interesting aspects of the law, I was also doing a parallel science degree – and my favourite part of it was marine ecology.

The fact I ended up a lawyer and not a scientist is no reflection on the quality of the courses taught by the likes of Steve Dawson, Liz Slooten and Catriona Hurd. They were excellent!

And it is indeed a great pleasure that I now get to immerse myself in that world again – even if it is at a time when our oceans are under such pressure from climate change and other human activities, on land and at sea.

Oceans are, after all, an essential part of being a New Zealander.

Our four-million-square-mile marine area is 15 times the size of our land area.

We play in it, eat from it, look at it, and love it.

Even our most inland point – which is, apparently, somewhere around Cromwell – is not much more than a hundred kilometres from the sea.

As you know better than anyone, healthy oceans are essential to life on Earth.

Whether it's regulating the weather, storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide, producing oxygen or feeding billions of people, we simply couldn’t exist without them.

But they are in trouble.

The state of the oceans in our own big blue backyard is set out in the 2022 Our Marine Environment Report, prepared by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand.

It deals with all the big issues:

  • Climate change driving sea-warming and ocean acidification.
  • Pollution by plastics that will take centuries to break down. Who can forget the heart-breaking image – courtesy of Sir David Attenborough – of an albatross trying to feed a piece of plastic to her chick?
  • The plight of marine species – with 22 per cent of marine mammals, 90 per cent of seabirds and 82 per cent of shorebirds threatened, or at risk of being threated, with extinction. And that’s just the species that have been assessed.
  • The threats to native species and ecosystems – as well as to human health and to our seafood sector – from marine invaders.

And a particular hobby-horse of mine – the impact on the oceans of what we’re doing on the land. This includes allowing large amounts of sediment to wash into the sea.

My job, as the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, is to protect and improve the health of our oceans so they keep doing all the wonderful things we need them to do.

It’s a new job; until 2020, it was split between the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Conservation.

Our decision to bring the health of the oceans and the management of fisheries together in one portfolio, serviced by an Oceans Secretariat, shows how serious we are about getting it right.

And we are making progress.

We’ve reformed the fishing industry, including changes to the Fisheries Act to stop fish being discarded at sea, and to allow for our ground-breaking programme of putting cameras on fishing boats so fisheries officers can see in real-time what’s going on at sea.

We’ve got a new international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, and a new biodiversity strategy here at home.

We’ve also increased protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

Internationally, we’ve supported the new global treaty on Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, which will help to protect biodiversity within the high seas.

We’re also backing ongoing negotiations towards a global plastics treaty to end plastic pollution.

And we’re committed to a big boost in marine protection, by supporting the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework that aims to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.

The science is clear. Expanding and effectively managing networks of protected areas is important if we are to halt and reverse the loss of global biodiversity.

This is a challenging area of work, but we’ve got initiatives under way that will significantly  increase the area of New Zealand’s marine environment under protection and increase the connections between protected habitats.

We’ve made significant progress on the Southeast Marine Protection area, and we launched the Revitalising the Gulf project in the Hauraki Gulf.

The Hauraki Gulf is an important part of our work, and the Government is absolutely committed to this work. I am personally committed to this.

There is no doubt we need urgent action, and I’d like to acknowledge the role that many of you have played in highlighting the state of the Hauraki Gulf

The Revitalising the Gulf programme sets out a package of integrated marine conservation and fisheries management actions.

It includes a proposal for 19 protected areas that will triple the area under protection in the Hauraki Gulf: - from 6.7 per cent[1] to approximately 18 per cent.

It also includes a new Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Plan.

This will be the first area-specific fisheries plan for New Zealand, providing a more integrated and specific approach to marine management.

A draft plan was prepared by officials working with tangata whenua, stakeholders, and an advisory group, and I thank all the contributors for their work.

Public consultation on the draft plan took place earlier this year, and I expect to get final advice from officials soon.

A key management action in the draft plan is the Government’s commitment to significantly restrict bottom trawling, to carefully selected ‘Bottom Fishing Access Zones’.

These proposed access zones aim to maximise the protection of benthic  areas. Marine biodiversity and the location of important fishing areas have been taken into account.

The establishment of these access zones, as well as other actions in the Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Plan, will contribute to the restoration of

the overall health of the Gulf.

Public consultation on the proposed access zones will take place later this year.

On the commercial fishing front, fisheries contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of many communities.

The recent Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries report highlighted that seafood export revenue is forecast to rise 8 per cent, to $2.1 billion for the year to 30 June 2023.

And the free-trade agreement with the United Kingdom that has just come info force means an even better outlook for our seafood exports.

That said, future growth of the seafood industry will face challenges from climate change, and the ongoing transformation of aquaculture is crucial for its future expansion.

It is important to make sure our fishing is sustainable, our biodiversity is protected, and our marine environment is resilient to emerging pressures.

We have a solid fisheries management framework to build on, and are working to improve it. 

Fisheries New Zealand has started looking at using a more multi-species approach in some fisheries, and will be looking to expand that approach over time.

We are also continuing our work to better manage the impacts of fishing, including work to identify and protect habitats of significance to fisheries management.

In my short time as the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, I have been heartened to see some of the efforts that are being made to find more effective, less destructive, ways of fishing – many of which were highlighted in the recent Seafood Sustainability Awards.

That's what we need more of, and that's why we recently released a Draft Fisheries Industry Transformation Plan. 

A principle underlying the plan is continuing to make evidence-based decisions, backed by science – to improve the way we fish and ensure we manage our fisheries sustainably.

The plan sets out actions for a transformed, environmentally sustainable and profitable sector with the wellbeing of people and the oceans at the centre.

I thank the leadership group for its work so far, and to everyone who made submissions on the draft plan, and I’m looking forward to seeing the feedback.

We’re also working on a plan to grow a more sustainable and innovative aquaculture sector.

Aquaculture exports are expected to reach $510 million by the 30th of June, an 8 per cent increase on the previous year.

The Aquaculture Strategy supports the industry to become more sustainable, productive, resilient and inclusive; and seeks to grow the industry five-fold to $3 billion in annual revenue by 2035.

The keys to unlocking this growth lie in open-ocean aquaculture, building more value from our existing farming operations, and exploring new opportunities.

Our aquaculture strategy sets out a broad work programme and annual goals to achieve this.

Good progress is being made, including delivering on the Crown’s aquaculture settlement obligations to enable Māori to grow their contribution to the sector.

As we look towards growth, we must also build resilience into the system to respond to the inevitable challenges of climate change.

Aquaculture won’t be spared from these impacts, but with our aquaculture industry being relatively young, there is ample room to evolve and adapt.

Realising these growth opportunities, and adapting to climate change, will require us – more than ever - to turn to science for answers.

We must also consider the impact that different land uses have on the marine environment (I said it was a hobby-horse!).

Activities on land, especially agriculture, forestry and development, can have hugely detrimental effects.

New tools that manage sedimentation, as well as the way we’re reforming resource management law (there was a reason I became a lawyer after all!), will help manage the environmental effects of land use in the marine space.

We can already see this at work in the Kaipara Moana Remediation programme.

Quite simply, the soils around the harbour are sliding into it, because we removed the forests and introduced grazing animals.

The Government is providing $100 million in funding for the work through the Jobs for Nature programme, to fence stock out of waterways and to fund riparian planting.

Our oceans are critical to both the biodiversity they support and to our way of life as New Zealanders.

Work in the Oceans and Fisheries portfolio is about making sure they’re available for future generations, including recognising the diverse rights and interests of Māori as Treaty partners, business owners and as kaitiaki.

Science, including traditional knowledge, is critical.

In the 2021/22 year, the Government supported marine science with more than $27 million through avenues like the Strategic Science Investment Fund and the Endeavour Fund.

We also invest more than $20 million a year in fisheries science as part of the annual stock assessments and surveys.

I wish you all the best for the conference ahead, and I thank you for being here this morning.

No reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.