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Managing our oceans - Hon Pete Hodgson

Hon Pete Hodgson
Wednesday, 30 August 2000:
Waikato University, Hamilton
Speech Notes

Managing our oceans – address to the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society conference

Thank you for the opportunity to open this conference.

It's always a pleasure to be talking to scientists. It's particularly good to be talking to marine scientists, given my interests as a minister in both science and fisheries. The portfolios intersect in interesting ways. We have much to learn about our oceans and fisheries, and science is a key to managing both.

I'm not a scientist myself, but as a former vet I had a scientific education. I taught high school physics for a while and I'm a failed amateur marine researcher. I tried to grow crayfish from spawn, in a tank in the basement of my house. They didn't make it past stage four of their life cycle.

I don't feel too bad about that, because to my knowledge nobody else has succeeded either. Maybe one of you, or your students or successors, will crack it one day and we'll have a valuable new aquaculture industry.

I said I'm happy to be in front of scientists and that's because you're committed to the advancement of knowledge and ideas, and I'm part of a Government that shares that enthusiasm. Science and innovation are central to this Government's ambitions for both the economy and the environment.

We put our money where our mouth is in this year's Budget, when we increased the total public investment in research, science and technology this year by almost $44 million. That's one of the largest single increases in a decade.

Total Government expenditure is up by less than 5 percent, but R&D expenditure is up by more than 10 percent. As Science Minister I'm proud of that. Investing in R&D is what smart economies do.

This Budget also included funding for the Government’s biodiversity package. That includes an extra $40 million over the next five years on research and management programmes for marine biodiversity and biosecurity.

The Government’s investment in marine research through the Public Good Science Fund increased about 50% from 1995/96 to 1998/99. This was significantly more than the 12% increase of the Public Good Science Fund over that period.

During that same period research funded by the Ministry of Fisheries and the fishing industry levy fell by more than 20%, to $13.2 million. But if you can bear one more bit of good news, for 2000-20001 we're proposing to increase the research spend in this area again to a shade over $19 million.

One more point about the current fisheries research effort. As some of you will know, I've shelved proposals for the direct purchase of research by the fishing industry for at least a year. I believe we need to do some hard thinking before we go down that road.

There are real questions about whether industry-purchased research gets the incentives right, about whether we can design standards and specifications robust enough to deal with potential conflicts of interest. Maybe the next step in some fisheries is direct purchasing of research. I'm not ruling that in or out. I'm being cautious. I'm challenging the industry to persuade me that its management structures are mature enough to handle that step.

Enough about funding. I note that your conference theme is about integrated approaches to sustainable management of coastal and estuarine environments. That's useful, because the Government is doing some hard thinking about integrated management of the marine environment as well.

From a look at our current legislation covering the marine environment you might think there is no interaction between the land and the sea. We have extensive policies in this country for managing our land, but nothing comparable for our oceans.

We govern this vast resource in the face of competition between all its users – commercial fishers, recreational fishers, tourism operators, shippers, miners, rubbish dumpers and land uses that cause sedimentary run-off or pollution.

But there's no over-arching policy framework guiding a lot of the decisions we have to make when competition becomes conflict. A lot of those decisions are ad hoc, contradictory and inefficient.

On top of that, even though we're starting to understand how little we know about oceans, we don’t have a policy framework that helps us set priorities for what we need to learn. Nor do we have any agreed principles for judging whether we are making the most of what we've got.

The recent collision between the Fisheries Act and the Resource Management Act over aquaculture may be the first of many. We want public policy to stay ahead of the game. We need some sort of framework.

We're setting out to create that framework and we're calling it an Oceans Policy.

Part of the challenge of the exercise will be to communicate to New Zealanders at large what we're on about. We're islanders, as a nation, and our relationship with the sea is part of our identity as New Zealanders. But when we mention oceans, most people think of vast, heaving blue acres, a long way from their place.

So we'll be trying to explain that an Oceans Policy is about things closer to home than that. It's about what's in the water when you take the kids to the beach, how many mussel farms you meet in your kayak, how many tourist charter boats you see in a marine reserve. It's about whether your daughter's hopes of a job with a seabed mining company are dashed by someone trying to protect his livelihood as a trawlerman. It's about how you have your say when somebody wants to lay a fibre-optic cable down the coast past your place, or what you have to do if you own the company.

So it's not just about fish, even though I'm the Minister of Fisheries and my senior policy adviser on the matter is somebody I've pinched from the Ministry of Fisheries. She'll be talking to you later and you'll see she's got her eye on the big picture, as I do.

The Prime Minister asked me to lead this process, I think, because I'm a minister of many hats. I have what I can best describe as a web of portfolios, whose issues intersect all the time. I need to be able to see the connections and the possibilities for coordination of effort. That's the kind of approach the Oceans Policy is going to need.

The policy will have to reflect all the key goals this Government has set itself. One of those is to grow an inclusive, innovative economy for the benefit of all New Zealanders. Another is to protect and enhance the environment. So we must manage the ocean to meet environmental concerns, but also to meet economic needs. We have to take care of transport, recreational, social, spiritual and Maori customary needs and values as well.

Total management of the marine environment and all its ecosystems is not possible, obviously. We're setting out to try to define and control the impact of human activity on that environment.

Doing that in ideal fashion would require considerable and diverse information to guide decision-makers. But the size and complexity of the marine environment often make it difficult to get that information.

We don't really know much – compared to what there is to learn – about the life in our oceans. We know we have more than 8,000 marine species, but we're sure there are a great many more.
We have limited information about the impacts of land use on oceans.
We have limited information about the relationship between oceans and climate change - one of the other major policy issues I'm involved with.

We have limited but targeted information available about fish stocks. We know even less about the relationships between target fisheries and associated and dependent species.

We don't know enough about the relationship between fisheries and the aquatic environment generally.

All up, I reckon our knowledge of the marine ecosystem is about as good as our knowledge of the terrestrial ecosystem was 100 or 120 years ago.

We don't need to know everything, of course. And we can't know a whole lot more instantly, no matter what we spend on research.

We have to be smart about the way we go at these information gaps. We can't pursue more information just for the sake of having it. The resource is too big and our funding is too limited. So one of the things our Oceans policy should help us do is aim our effort where it's most needed.
We need to target our research resources for the benefit of New Zealand. And we need to maximise the use we make of what we have.

Currently we have no framework to determine priorities for research decisions and management of information by government agencies. Problems have been identified with aligning operational research with R&D. We need to avoid knowledge gaps and duplication of effort.

We need clear priorities, to manage conflict and tensions between competing research providers. The absence of such priorities is making it difficult to evaluate the total research effort and ensure the best outcome for Government’s investment.

We're at the beginning of the policy process, but our vision for oceans management is something like this:
a New Zealand surrounded by healthy oceans, rich in biodiversity, with abundant fish stocks, clean water and secure natural habitats;
a high degree of collective responsibility for management of the resource accepted by stakeholders and the public;
all interests in the resource identified and acknowledged, and the interaction between them understood;
a maximised economic return from the oceans, without any compromise on environmental standards;
accurate, comprehensive information about all aspects of the resource readily available to stakeholders and the public;
a management framework reflecting the Treaty and the partnership between the Crown and Iwi;
our marine resources managed in way that's consistent with our international obligations.

We have no pre-set ideas about any government structures or legislation we might need. We're still thinking hard about the nature of the problem.

Good process will be essential to getting this together. I want the process to include everyone with an interest in the resource.

It has to be an across-government initiative. There are fourteen agencies with interests in oceans management. Local government also has a significant decision-making role and Maori have legal management rights in relation to aspects of the marine environment. All of those must contribute effectively if we're going to get a policy developed that's robust and effective.

We'll be setting up a ministerial advisory committee of independent people appointed by Cabinet to support the group of ministers I'm chairing. We'll be looking for people with the capacity to create debate and consensus within the community.

We'll be consulting extensively with rights holders, sector groups, local government and the public. You, the marine science community, will naturally have a useful contribution to make. We will need your expertise and your input.

I hope we can focus on what New Zealanders want for the future from oceans management, rather than on documenting the problems people have with the current regime. We need to define our goals for the marine environment and the best way to achieve them.

I don’t know what we are going to come up with and I don’t think anybody else does either. We'll learn by doing. We have to, or we risk the significant deterioration of one of this nation's greatest resources.

Thank you.


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