The fishing industry has a laughable case for compensation in the Kermadecs – and the Government shouldn’t pay, says Anton van Helden.
The fishing industry recently lodged a legal case against the Government’s proposal to establish the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.
The case does not appear to be about the law, nor even about fish. It’s about extracting corporate welfare from the taxpayer and blocking future efforts at marine protection. Most of the fish they are seeking compensation for are not found in the Kermadecs and the industry’s interpretation of the law of the sea is laughable.
The fishing industry’s assertion that the New Zealand Government does not have the right to create marine protection in the EEZ is clearly laughable.
Yet the fishing industry case also argues for compensation for 66 species that they claim a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will deny them access to.
One would imagine that the fishing industry knows a thing or two about fish. However, from Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) data, 34 of the species they have listed do not even occur in the region, a further 10 are listed as “unknown” for the region, six don’t show up in the Ministry’s own database, and of the 16 species left, six occur only in the existing marine reserve that covers the territorial seas immediately around the Kermadec Islands.
The preferred method of fishing for at least four of the remaining few species is bottom trawling, which is prohibited by the industry’s own designation of the Kermadec region as a Benthic Protected Area. Three species have previously had experimental fisheries in the region that came to nothing. Unsurprisingly there has been almost no fishing in the Kermadec EEZ for the last 10 years.
So with such thin arguments, and so little chance of winning, why is the industry going to court over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary proposal?
A good question.
Part of the answer can be understood from the makeup of the industry group taking the case. It is telling that one is an investment company involved almost exclusively with aquaculture and inshore fishing, neither of which can happen in the Kermadec region.
The industry is not really concerned about the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Their strategy appears to be to pressure the Government into avoiding the significant cost of a court case by settling for a small compensation payment over the Kermadecs.
While such a solution might be politically attractive in the short term, the long-term consequences for sustainably managing our marine environment would be enormous.
The fishing industry is after a precedent which they can then wield to block any attempt to establish genuine marine protection measures in the rest of our EEZ by demanding massive “compensation” for any new protection proposal. Such demands could then be made against marine protection proposals in the coastal territorial seas.
The Government must resist the industry’s stand-over tactics and avoid any quick and dirty out-of-court deals.
The industry’s case provides the perfect opportunity for the courts to establish, once and for all, that the international agreement that established our right to sustainably manage our EEZ came with an equal obligation to preserve and protect our marine environment.
I agree with Forest & Bird.