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Our Oceans Conference

Hon Dr Nick Smith

Minister for the Environment

7 October 2015

Speech at the Our Oceans Conference

Remarks by New Zealand Minister for the Environment at Our Ocean Conference, Valparaiso, Chile

Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz, I am delighted to be here for the second Our Oceans conference.

Thank you for your kind invitation.

My country, New Zealand, and yours, Chile, may seem far apart, but we consider ourselves close neighbours – not separated but joined by ocean.

We share a common concern about the challenges facing our oceans, and

I welcome your leadership in bringing us together to confront them.

New Zealand’s experience

For New Zealand, being involved in this dialogue is important.

As an island nation with one of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), our livelihoods are closely tied to the ocean.

Our economy relies heavily on fisheries, aquaculture and marine tourism; oceans are central to Māori culture and heritage; and New Zealanders place a high value on recreational opportunities to swim, fish and boat along our long coast and diverse seas.

There are three essential pillars to our Government’s approach to the healthy management of our oceans.

The first is a robust system of sustainable fisheries management. Our country pioneered a quota-rights fisheries management system grounded in fishing science in 1986, ensuring our stocks are both sustainable and profitable.

Secondly, we have implemented robust systems for managing marine activities to minimise pollution in both the coastal and wider ocean. Our 2012 EEZ environmental effects law ensures the development of minerals resources in the ocean is independently assessed and properly regulated.

The third pillar is developing a network of marine protected areas. We believe the oceans are the new frontier for conservation. Just as on land where we have set aside special areas as national parks, in which nature’s needs come first, we seek to achieve similar areas of protection at sea.

In 1971, our country passed one of the first Marine Reserves Acts in the world. Since then we have created a network of 44 no-take areas in the territorial sea, including 10 last year. While these amount to 10 per cent of our territorial sea, it is a small fraction of less than one per cent of our EEZ.

I am pleased to reaffirm our Prime Minister’s announcement made in New York last Monday of a new ocean sanctuary of 620,000 square kilometres surrounding the Kermadec Islands in the southwest Pacific. This is New Zealand’s first marine protected area in our EEZ.

This area of ocean is deeper than Mount Everest is tall, covers the longest arc of underwater volcanoes anywhere and is host to an incredible diversity of marine life. Its remoteness also means it is one of the least impacted by human activity.

We have opted for the gold standard of marine protection so that all fishing and mining activities will be prohibited from 1 October next year. This will leave this pristine ocean for the over six million birds of 39 species, the 35 species of whale and dolphin, as well as the thousands of species of fish and other marine life, many of which are unique to the area.

We make this announcement alongside other significant initiatives in the Pacific, like those announced by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry; those from the United Kingdom around Pitcairn Island; and those from President Bachelet this morning at Rapa Nui.

I must also acknowledge the concerted efforts by the Pew Charitable Trust in both New Zealand and internationally in its campaign for this global network of marine protected areas – to which the Kermadecs is a valuable addition.

This Kermadec initiative in our most northern sub-tropical waters needs a partner in the international waters of the Ross Sea to the south. I acknowledge our co-proponents, the United States, and other international partners in the hope that in time, we can make progress too on this initiative.

The Pacific

Our strong connection to the ocean is shared by our Pacific neighbours, the island nations for whom the ocean, as well as being central to their culture and heritage, is also their major economic resource.

New Zealand supports their efforts towards national and international conservation goals.

Today, I am announcing that New Zealand will contribute $1.8 million to help island nations build their resilience to slow-onset ocean acidification.

This is an important area of work. Ocean acidification impacts marine life and ecosystems, with potentially significant impacts for the economies and populations that depend on them.

The other contribution New Zealand is making which I want to mention today is one our Prime Minister announced at last month’s Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ Meeting.

We will invest $50 million over the next three years to support the development of a framework for a catch-based management system.

This will help Pacific governments to boost returns on the fish caught in their waters, but at the same time safeguard their fisheries for future generations.


Our region faces challenges that we cannot address alone.

For one, we need to agree stronger controls in overfished stocks and to ensure they are observed.

The international community needs to step up and work with our region.

We need to confront the entrenched interests, weak policy-making and sheer bureaucracy that obstruct sustainability measure decisions and allow the continuation of subsidies that promote overcapacity and overfishing, and in turn promote IUU fishing.

Last year US$400 million of tuna was estimated to have been taken from the region’s zone illegally, or through under reporting.

That amounts to literally stealing from some of the poorest people on our planet.

New Zealand has been working as a part of an international effort to put these rogue operators out of business.

But the transnational nature of IUU fishing means that stopping those responsible will demand stronger action by all.

IUU fishing cannot be tackled effectively without port states developing strong legal frameworks and holding operators to account if they break the rules.

New Zealand encourages the ratification and implementation of the FAO Port State Measures Agreement.

When we confront challenges together we get results, and on this occasion it would be appropriate to acknowledge the close cooperation between New Zealand and Chile during negotiations that led to the establishment of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, and during subsequent deliberations of the Organisation.

The positive steps being taken by the Organisation and Chile to rebuild the jack mackerel stocks straddling Chile’s EEZ and the high seas illustrate the value of working together, and I welcome Chile’s leadership in this area.

That formula, of commitment and cooperation, is our opportunity to make progress on IUU fishing.

If we can all bring cooperation and commitment to the challenges facing our oceans, we will make real, sustainable and comprehensive change.

Thank you.


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