So says the Green Party, after National voted yesterday to kill a bill that would seek to strengthen implementation of NZ’s Marine Mammal Protection Act and related laws.

The Greens are especially upset because National appears to have reneged on a pre-election commitment made in October 2008 in response to questioning by the Science Media Center. Here’s what John Key said at the time (full exchange here):

“Management of our marine environment is a balance between environmental and economic concerns as fishing, ecotourism and conservation all call on this resource. Creating marine reserves is part of the solution but reserves must result in scientifically justified biodiversity protection. Consultation is also vital to get both community buy-in and ensure fishers are motivated to help police such areas …

With respect to Hectors and Maui dolphins, they are among New Zealand’s most precious and iconic species. Further deterioration in their populations must be halted. New Zealanders can be assured that National will rely on the science to determine what is causing the dolphins’ decline and act on that science.”

And here’s what the Greens say after National’s refusal to even send the reform bill to a Select Committee, where the issues might have been fully vetted (full statement of Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei here):

“The National Party has today broken election promises to ensure the recovery of Hector’s and Maui dolphins,” said Mrs Turei.

“National’s callous disregard to the plight of our iconic species that are sliding towards extinction under the current law is unfathomable,” said Mrs Turei.

“National seems so blinded by ideology that they are happy to see dolphins and albatrosses go extinct in the name of reducing compliance cost.”

The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1974 allows for population management plans to ensure endangered species survive, but not one plan exists. Mrs Turei said, “The Bill would have clarified the law to ensure these tools were used”.

“Instead of clear plans to protect marine animals, we have Maui dolphins reduced to just 111, fairy terns with just 10 breeding pairs, and 31% fewer sea lions were born this season.”

New Zealand waters are home to half the world’s whales, dolphins and albatrosses – and is known as the “seabird capital of the world”. Many marine animals, such as the NZ sea lion, exist only in our waters.

Today, a landmark new study published in the international journal Conservation Biology stated that an extinction crisis looms in Oceania, and urged governments to act urgently to address the causes of species extinctions across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. The authors were particularly concerned about the impacts of fisheries and the effects of by-catch.

“I am dismayed that the Prime Minister opposes this crucial Bill, when our marine tourism industry generates over $100 million a year, and our overseas markets are beginning to refuse to stock our fish because they fail sustainability standards,” said Mrs Turei.

No doubt the National Party will say this issue is about striking the “right balance” between economic concerns and the environment. However, this “trade-off” is often spurious to begin with. And in this case the Greens are rightfully arguing that National’s position indeed will wind up injuring NZ fish exports in particular (Mrs. Turei provided concrete examples here), and the nation’s “clean, green” brand more generally.

On this one, shame on National!

Tom Belford

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  1. Mr Key-'The issue is about striking the “right balance” between economic concerns and the environment.' -Funny concept that one. It is a very similar argument to the Sports Park Argument – 'finding the "right balance between protecting the life supporting capacity of the soil with the sport and recreational needs of the community ,' -then taking the best soil in NZ soil out of production and building on it. I am sure we are going to be harvesting fruit and veges from the centre of the athletics oval!. (We'll have to pay the bills somehow.) If we continue to allow the destruction of our species and our land WE WILL HAVE NO ECONOMY TO BALANCE with anything and we are threatening our own survival on this planet. There are aready huge quantities of hard core proven Marine scientific data out there telling us that we have to act now. The inplications of the current rates of destruction are frightening. The Science has been around and accumulating for 30-50 years. Do we really need more study or do the the powers that be just want to acheive their own agends before they start listening. The marine animals won't survive while we wait. Metiria Turei is a very astute young woman who has a wealth of knowledge on marine issues in particular and her comments need to be listened to. Perhaps we shouldn't have economists and business people running our country?

  2. One should not really be surprised with nationals action. In less than a year in power they have rolled back as many of the "green'' gains made under labour. If there is one party the nats want NOT to suceed it's the Greens.

    In the case of dolphins, seals etc National had a choice between fishermen and profits or these creatures we are supposed to share the planet with. It therefore comes as no surprise to me money won out.

    Maybe now some people are starting to understand where the 'hate' I have built up for National over the last 30 years comes from. I said before the last election that I thought John Key was potentially the most dangerous man for NZ's future since Rob Muldoon – he is well on his way to making this happen.

    The fact is fish exports which involve such 'by-catches' will not make many markets. Recently a Bristish supermarket chain banned import of NZ Hoki because of environmental damage [bottom trawling] even with a 'sustainable' recognition for this fishery. Even though one large fishing firm maintains the fishery is not sustainable on current catch rates.

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