Water quality threatens fishing future

Seafood exports from New Zealand were worth $1.375 billion in 2014, up 3 per cent on the previous year.
John Hawkins

Seafood exports from New Zealand were worth $1.375 billion in 2014, up 3 per cent on the previous year.

Poor water quality is threatening the future of one of Southland's biggest industries, fishermen say.

Seafood exports from New Zealand were worth $1.375 billion in 2014, up 3 per cent on the previous year.

About $150 million could be attributed to the Southland coast, with crayfish accounting for two-thirds of that.

PERCEPTIONS: 'New Zealand markets itself as being clean and green, so it's an issue that needs to be addressed,' says ...
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/FAIRFAX NZ

PERCEPTIONS: 'New Zealand markets itself as being clean and green, so it's an issue that needs to be addressed,' says CRA8 Management Committee chief executive officer Malcolm Lawson.

But Bill Chisholm, spokesman for eel and blue-cod fishermen, said the future of the industry was being jeopardised by poor water quality as a result of sediment flowing into the ocean and estuaries.

"We've got this goose that's laying a golden egg, but that's all being threatened by poor water quality," he said.

Chisholm said the fishing industry had been "a litany of lost opportunities" since it began.

Schemes such as the Department of Conservation's Marine Protected Areas, which closed parts of the Catlins coastline on the southeast of the South Island to fishing, had failed to address the real problem of poor water quality, he said.

"There are so many opportunities for fishing to grow and that growth will come not by catching more fish, but through marketing," Chisholm said.

"To market anything overseas, you need investment of biblical proportions, and to get that you need the bank manager to be confident in your industry."

CRA8 Management Committee chief executive Malcolm Lawson said the crayfish sector had grown exponentially over the past 10 years.

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Southern lobsters, from New Zealand and Australia, were viewed by Chinese buyers as the best quality lobster on the market, he said.

While poor water quality did not affect crayfish as heavily as other fisheries, because most fishing took place away from developed areas, there was still a threat to its value because of importers' perceptions, he said.

"It certainly has the potential to effect other fisheries and the whole industry could be tarred with the same brush," Lawson said.

"New Zealand markets itself as being clean and green, so it's an issue that needs to be addressed."

Lawson said that while much of the focus of Environment Southland's Water and Land 2020 & Beyond Plan was on how it would affect farmers, it was also a significant issue for fishermen.

"What happens upstream doesn't just disappear - it also has an effect downstream," he said.

'HOLD THE LINE'

An Environment Southland report in June 2014 said all but one of the estuaries in the region were showing signs of rapid degradation.

Sediment fingerprinting studies conducted by AgResearch, Niwa and DairyNZ soon after linked poor estuary health to sheep sediment.

Environment Southland freshwater and marine science leader Nick Ward said research being conducted as part of the Water and Land 2020 & Beyond Plan was fundamental to making long-term decisions on how to improve water quality.

Vin Smith, the director of policy, planning and regulatory services, said nutrients and sediment already in the system meant the council had to accept water quality might decline further in the short term.

The short-term focus had been encouraging farmers to implement good management practises in order to "hold the line" until the long-term plan was implemented, he said.

Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie said it was crucial that the issue was looked at carefully and the long-term future of the fishing industry secured.

Dowie said she had met representatives of each major fishing sector last week and considered fishing one of the Invercargill electorate's most important industries.

"I was exceptionally impressed with those guys - they're very proactive and they're investing their money in the right places," she said.

"Fishing is a very sustainable industry and they've shown in the past that when they have problems, like oysters did with bonamia, they can self-regulate with great results."

Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters general manager Graeme Wright said the value of fishing in Southland was not all about exports.

Only a "minute amount" of Bluff oysters were exported, he said, but their popularity was huge and money generated in Southland tended to stay in the province and boost the local economy.

 - The Southland Times

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