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Ramsar Listing Of Southern Wetlands

25 June 2002
Ramsar Listing Of Southern Wetlands Will Benefit Local Whitebaiters And Whitebait

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee said today there would be benefits for local whitebaiters and whitebait if the lower reaches of two popular whitebaiting rivers were included in the designation of southern wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.

Ms Lee said she was aware of local concerns about the inclusion of the lower Mataura and Titiroa Rivers within the boundaries of protected wetlands, in a proposal she was still considering.

“Some Southland whitebaiters appear to believe that the inclusion of these areas is a ploy to deny them access to the area for whitebaiting in the future. But anyone with such views has misunderstood the nature of the Ramsar Convention.

"The Convention's opening statement recognises the interdependence of people and the environment and states that wetlands are a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value.’

"In Article 3 of the Convention, the contracting parties commit to promoting the conservation of wetlands and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands. Wise use was defined in the Ramsar context in 1987 as 'sustainable utilisation of wetland resources in such a way as to benefit the human community while maintaining their potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations'."

Ms Lee said that given the explicit references in the Ramsar Convention to the utilisation of wetlands for human benefit, it was clear that there was no basis for the fears of whitebaiters that the Ramsar listing might be used to prevent whitebaiting.

“Ramsar listed wetlands occur in over 130 extremely diverse countries including Indonesia, France, the United Sates, Mexico, Egypt and Canada. One of Indonesia’s Ramsar wetlands is inhabited by local people who harvest 3000 tonnes of fish from the wetland every year. Other human activities in the Indonesian Ramsar site include cultivation and the traditional harvest of forest products.

“If Indonesia has no qualms about the inclusion of significant wetland fisheries into a Ramsar site then there appears to be little cause for Southland whitebaiters’ concerns.”

Ms Lee said New Zealand’s South West World Heritage Area also included dozens of major whitebaiting areas in South Westland.

“The World Heritage convention is much more protection-oriented than Ramsar, yet whitebaiting and world heritage status have happily co-existed in South Westland now for than a decade.

“World Heritage listing was originally opposed on the West Coast for similar reasons that some Southland whitebaiters are using to oppose the proposed listing of their wetlands under the Ramsar Convention.

"It was claimed that the World Heritage Convention was a Communist-inspired plot to lock up Western resources. Time has shown that claim to be utter nonsense as the New Zealand economy has benefited from the World Heritage profile of the forests, rivers, wetlands and mountains of the southwest.

“The Department of Conservation advised me that the lower reaches of the rivers are of importance as native fisheries, particularly the whitebait fishery. I have been told the Ramsar proposal provides an opportunity to recognise the value these river reaches have for spawning, rearing, fish passage and harvest.

“If the government chooses to recognise the international values of the wetlands, estuaries and river mouths of the proposed Awarua Ramsar site, it is clear to me that this will benefit both whitebait and whitebaiters.

"The area, in the words of the Convention, needs to be managed as a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value”

Ms Lee said she welcomed the Southland District Council's acceptance of the inclusion of rivermouth areas into the Ramsar site.

She said local and central government would need to continue working closely together to ensure the Awarua wetland area was wisely managed to benefit both nature and the people of Southland.


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