Bay of Islands marine reserves proposed

NEED TO PROTECT: Marine reserves will restore fish stocks, protect biodiversity and create jobs through eco-tourism.
NEED TO PROTECT: Marine reserves will restore fish stocks, protect biodiversity and create jobs through eco-tourism.

Two areas in the Bay of Islands are identified as no-take marine reserves in a proposal to restore fish stocks, protect biodiversity and create jobs through eco-tourism.

The proposal, launched last night at Waitangi by a community initiative, Fish Forever, comes after five years of consultation and research.

Fish Forever wants public feedback on the two proposed marine reserves and a proposed scientific reserve, asking for submissions by June 13.

MARINE PROPOSAL: Two areas in the Bay of Islands have been identified as possible no-take marine reserves.
MARINE PROPOSAL: Two areas in the Bay of Islands have been identified as possible no-take marine reserves.

The proposed no-take reserves are 1003 hectares around Waewaetorea Island and 908ha adjacent to an existing rahui at Deep Water Cove, where the wreck of the frigate Canterbury is a popular dive attraction.

Both sites were among the most popular choices in a Fish Forever survey conducted in 2011, asking people what areas they would like to see protected.

Fish Forever considers a 10 per cent protection of the Bay of Islands as an important step towards a larger national goal of creating a network of protected marine areas and sees it as an election issue for Northland.

At last night's launch, marine biologist and Fish Forever member Vince Kerr referred to long-gone periods when the Bay experienced massive schools of mullet, harvests of school sharks, big sea bass and hapuku and large quantities of crayfish.

"Decades of overfishing have taken out the large fish that ate kina," he said.

"As a result kina have chewed out kelp forests over large areas. It is a big deal."

He spoke of the promise of economic benefits of marine reserves, pointing out that Rodney had enjoyed $28 million annual spend as a spin-off of the marine reserve at Leigh, with 200 jobs created in the area in marine-related activities.

"Marine reserves are a truly sustainable and internationally popular opportunity for Northland," he said.

Fisheries ecologist John Booth said the proposed areas were selected representative and rare environments that would fit into the Government's biodiversity strategy.

Northland regional councillor and life-long fisher Dover Samuels, speaking as a private citizen, recalled the days of plenty.

"I remember when we didn't have to get wet to see crayfish," he said.

"There will be many competing interests and in the end the decision will be a political one, but it is crucial that all, Maori and Pakeha, put in a plan to preserve marine species.

"It is important for all people to put their footprint in the sand."

Together the two proposed areas amount to 2000 ha out of 30,000 ha of water surface within the Bay of Islands.

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