Professional Skipper – June 97 issue            back to articles menu

"The Poor Knights Reserve - simply a matter of adjustment."
Yet another tug of war is taking place over our country’s natural resources. The winners in this battle appear to be 'yet another minority group' (that is, the small number of our citizens who like to dive and watch fish swimming around), the losers of course are anyone and everyone else, including those who don’t dive, don’t want to dive, and who just want to catch those same fish and eat them.

And then of course there are those unfortunates who haven’t got the cash to do either of the above and for whom the fish shop is the default option. They probably don’t particularly care about this issue, and in all likelihood will be totally unaffected by it. Until, of course, and if by chance they find the money, they might want to go fishing one day. Only to find that, between the Mataitai reserves grabbed under the Treaty provisions for one minority group and the new and further proposed Marine Reserves for the minority group who dive, there will be nowhere to go. I’m thinking of forming a new Tribe called the ‘People of the Land of the Wrong White Crowd’ and registering a claim under the Treaty (yes, Pakeha can be included in Treaty claims too) and grabbing us some land and some fishery while the Government is still in sackcloth-and-ashes mode. If they will insist on giving it away we may as well stand in the queue.

I’m a big supporter of conservation - I really am. OK, I don’t actively go down South and hug trees, but I would if I had the time and it was warm & dry and no-one was looking - just a quick squeeze, nothing romantic you understand - and the thought of open-cast mining where square miles of land are literally ripped apart and destroyed appals me. So therefore my first reaction to the concept of marine reserves was positive. I still feel positive about the concept - its the reality of ‘what’s actually goin’ down here’  that is giving me the heebie-jeebies.  At first I thought that the demand of 10% of our coast-line wasn’t too unreasonable - until it sunk in that the places they wanted these reserves wasn’t somewhere uninhabited or remote like Kidnappers or the Sounds or Fiordland. These people want prime areas in the Hauraki Gulf - and lots of them, too!

Good grief - I can find plenty of space for them on the Chatham rise (oops, that’s commercial) or up North (sorry, that’s Ngapuhi) er, well, the East Coast then (wrong again, that’s Ngati something or other, and if it isn’t we’ll make one up).  OK, I accept it won’t be easy but to ring-fence off huge areas of prime Gulf area for the exclusive use of yet another minority group is just another nail in the coffin of reason and common sense. I have heard the comment that this decision was arrived at by ‘democratic process’ and apparently clinched after the eco-lobby took the Minister out for his first ever experience of diving. Firstly I question the legitimacy of the majority of the thousands of votes from children who had been given pre-printed forms to fill out at school, which were then posted to the Minister. I wonder if these kids were told at the time all the facts they needed to come to a balanced view? Do their parents realise their kids are being used by a pressure group? How can you expect a child to understand that, because of the piece of paper they sent in, the only safe anchorage for 50 miles of coastline would be made out of bounds for a fishing boat with catch on board in the event of bad weather? If you were to ask these kids ‘Why did you send in the form’ would they say ‘oh, because I understood the ecological impact on the site and the need to preserve a balanced food-chain, and I considered the issue of maritime safety’ or would they say ‘because the teacher said all the fish were being taken, and anyway everyone in my class did it too, and it was really cool!’. Lets face it - if a Minister of the Crown can be influenced so completely, simply by the emotional impact of his first diving experience, then there’s not a lot of hope for a few thousand schoolkids having similar emotional manipulation applied. Can you imagine a (somehow) virginal Minister of Health, on having his/her first sexual experience, passing legislation to make sexual intercourse compulsory? Now there’s a thought...

I guess what really stuns me is the casual way the Dive lobby talks about how the business community in the affected area will need to ‘adjust’. What a lovely word. “Excuse me, I’m here to repossess your Charter boat, and while we’re at it, get your possessions out of the house ready for the Mortgagee Auction, but don’t load it all in the truck, ‘cos we’re going to sell that too.”   Some adjustment... And I had to chuckle, if a little darkly, at the Ministers decision to phase this ‘adjustment’ in over 12 months or so. Great. The axe will still fall Team, but at least you’ll be able to watch it fall. Of course, you won’t be able to sell up and escape because everyone knows what’s going to happen - just like a Taranaki Lease Farmer. Still, every cloud has a silver lining - there’ll be some cheap boats going for sale in about 12 months time. Unless of course they burn them to the waterline in protest before the banks can foreclose.

But Wait! Why am I so pessimistic? A spokesperson for the Diving lobby, Roger Grace, has prophesied (Boating NZ, July issue) that, on command, eco tourists will turn up in droves to take the place of the recreational fisher! It’s just a simple matter of converting the fleet over from fishing to diving! Oh, Phew - thanks Roger. For a moment I thought we were doomed. Obviously he has all the facts at his fingertips (facts not available to the business-people involved) or he wouldn’t be so bold. Mind you, I don’t see him investing in a boat up there...... Come on Rog - if you’re so convinced that it will happen, how about putting up some money? Why not go up there, put your money where your mouth is, and BUY one of the Charter businesses? One that’s not already kitted up for diving, of course. There’s a certain Minister of the Crown who might like to join you in this sure-fire venture, so he can have another first time experience - what ‘business risk’ is all about. Who knows - we might see some practical reality seep into the decision-making process. But I guess that would be a conflict of interest. Whoever said Government thinking had anything to do with practical reality.

I think the part that I really don’t understand is why the whole of the Poor Knights area had to be taken? I mean, the only reason it was made into a partial reserve 20 years ago was because a mining company was sniffing around. Twenty years ago they new about a little word called ‘compromise’, an expression the present-day ecofanatics find hard to pronounce. Back then they found a solution where everyone ‘gave’ a little in order that everyone gained something too. The Reserve was created to keep the mining company out, then the Reserves Act was amended to allow recreational fishing inside the reserve. Hey Presto! a WIN/WIN situation.  Not only that, but the Charter boats would police the reserve knowing it was in their interests to do so. Twenty years on, some people have learned nothing. Now, Charter boats won’t go there (they can’t enter the Reserve if they have wet fish, bait and fishing gear on board - which currently means all of them). They can’t even use it for shelter in rough weather anymore - not unless they dump all their catch AND all their bait first. It’s a long way to the next safe shelter. No-one will police it. DOC can’t  - they proved that at Arid Island where, in spite of local support, they’ve had to withdraw, unable to fund the management of that Reserve.

So, back to my question on ‘compromise’. Mayor Island is a compromise that works very well, with some of  it a Marine Reserve and some a ‘free’ area. Which works very nicely for both divers and fishers. The same boat can dive the reserve in the morning, move out to sea for some big game stuff, then come into the ‘free’ area for dinner and a sheltered overnight. As long as they don’t go back into the reserve with wet fish on board - no problem. It works. So why not the Poor Knights? Why do the divers have to be so darned greedy and inconsiderate?  How come the Minister didn’t use Mayor Is as a successful example of the shared use of a mutual resource?

In the same July Boating article, Roger Grace quotes Bob Burstall of the Recreational Fishing Council as saying.....  “where he and his members were coming from was that the resource comes first” and uses that quote to suggest that Bob agreed with the divers lobby group. Naughty naughty, Roger. Any idiot knows that the Resource comes first. That doesn’t mean (and Bob didn’t mean) that one minority group should have exclusive access to it. No matter how zealous we writers may be, when we use quotes, we must report them honestly and not out of context.

Some people are going to go bust in Tutukaka. Not just charter operators. All the other businesses that survive with them in the same market. But not to worry, Team! Roger and the Minister say it’ll be all right - just a matter of ‘adjustment’.  I can imagine the Charter Operator pleading with his Bank Manager “Just another couple of thousand on the overdraft.... things will improve..... they promised the eco-tourists would come,  all I need is a bit of Grace.....”

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.                                                                                                                       back to articles menu