Wellington Scoop

Wellington fishers warn that seaweed harvesting will starve dolphins


Wellington fishermen have this week attacked the Ministry of Fisheries and MAF Biosecurity for a plan which they say will deny food for the rare Hector’s dolphins.

The criticism comes from the Wellington Recreational Marine Fishers’ Association in a submission against plans to allow large-scale commercial harvesting of seaweed from beaches.

The fishermen oppose the harvesting proposals because, they say, life in the seaweed provides a major food source for yellow-eyed mullet, moki, flounder, mackerel, blue cod and red gurnard “down through the food chain to dolphins and whales.”

They want to stop all removal of beach-cast seaweed because it provides “an important food source for marine species that keeps the oceans in balance, and provides the food source for the prey of Hector’s dolphins.”

They state their concern bluntly. “To deny Hector’s dolphins their main food source … will without question breach the Marine Mammals Protection Act.”

They ask that all commercial harvesting of seaweed with machinery be stopped. “Some machines dig into the sand 300mm thereby … crushing the life of the food source of the Hector’s dolphin – their prey is destroyed.”

The submission, written by the association’s vice-president Jim Mikoz, tells the two government departments that both the Wellington City Council and the Hutt City Council have changed the way they manage seaweed on beaches after being told of the consequences to marine life. But is it too late?


“Wellington Harbour 30 years ago had massive schools of yellow-eyed mullet, with dolphins arriving in the harbour and staying for weeks. Then the Wellington Regional Council destroyed their spawning grounds in the Pencarrow and Fitzroy Lakes, the Waiwhetu Stream and the Hutt River, while the Hutt City Council removed their food source, and now there are very few yellow-eyed mullet in the harbour.

“The impact on dolphins is massive because without a food source they now rarely stay more than a couple of days.”

The fishermen say they totally oppose the commercial harvesting of any seaweed on beaches. They see “an obvious bias towards supporting those who want to make money from beach-cast seaweed as if its removal will have little impact on the wider marine environment.”

The harvesting proposals “ignore the fact that the massive food chain is going to suffer and how, if there is a further increase in the removal of seaweed from beaches, it will take only a further five to six years before other fisheries begin to collapse.

“The collapse will occur because … the yellow-eyed mullet finds a major proportion of its food source in beach-cast seaweed. This specie lives, spawns and feeds almost entirely in the intertidal zone” which is “twenty times more productive than the sea and four times as productive as the land.”

The fisherman say that the harvesting proposals, if adopted, will have “a massive negative effect on all marine species.”

Jim Mikoz writes:

The value of beach-cast seaweed was presented by the association at the resource consent hearing for the Meridian West Wind proposal at Makara. We described Ohau Bay as special because its beach-cast seaweed provides an essential food source for mackerel and yellow-eyed mullet. They gather there in their thousands for summer feeding. These schooling fish then attract dolphins and orca, which take turns to feed. Baby orcas can be seen driving on to Makara Beach while feeding on yellow-eyed mullet.

We asked that a wharf be built in Oteranga Bay as an alternative to Ohau Bay, so that the seaweed would still be able to arrive at Ohau Bay. Our submission proved that yellow-eyed mullet eat the life in the beach-cast seaweed and this was accepted by Meridian. Later at the appeal hearing the information was acknowledged by the Environment Court.

Readers who are concerned about the effects of harvesting seaweed should write to the Ministry of Fisheries, PO Box 1020, Wellington.

Read alsoo

Chemicals in seaweed a threat to human health

Environment Waikato supports harvesting.


  1. Stuart Munro, 4. August 2009, 12:07

    Well it certainly raises interesting issues. I always though yellow eyed mullet were keener on green algae & some of the crustacea that browse on it, but I believe some work has been done on them. But Macrocystis is a major food for greenbone & really supports a huge community.
    It would be nice to see a focus on putting something back rather than the extractive bias that prevails at MoF. Macrocystis is readily re-established, and rapidly deforested by kina browsing when there aren’t enough large crayfish to control the kinas. We are in a depression at present, & the 1930s relief measure that worked was to plant trees. Culturing a few replacement macrocystis beds might do a lot of good.

    We cannot, of course, repose any confidence in the aptly named Mofos, because these are the same folk who oversaw the destruction of the hake fishery, the orange roughy fishery, the Bluff oysters, and many many more.

  2. Andrew, 4. August 2009, 13:50

    Take a lesson from the south of France. The Beautiful People didn’t want nasty smelly seaweed littering their golden beaches so the local councils started a programme of beach clearing (along with spraying the sand with perfume). The off-shore eco-system quickly collapsed……. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  3. Sue D'Nymm, 4. August 2009, 14:26

    We are a shortsighted species. We need to change our relationship to the other living species on this planet. They are not resources for our consumption, to do with as we please.
    We are not like animals anymore, we **** where we and others eat.

    If the Ministry of Fisheries had an ounce of sense, they would be doing everything within their power to not only reduce the current swathe we as a species are cutting through the ocean population, but also do a lot more to help growth.

    Sustainability is not a just reduction of the current harmful situation, it is about reversing it and building growth and abundance. We need to start looking long term, really long term, at the impacts of our own individual, as well as collective impacts upon the world, because everything leaves a mark, and things snowball. Do we want that to be a big snowball of doom? or a big snowball of growth?

    Something as seemingly as innocuous as seaweed collecting for our species use, can have detrimental, even fatal effects on other species.

    It is akin to getting rid of the grass and fertile soils. Seemingly harmless when you do it, but over time the effects would kick in.

  4. Ally M, 5. August 2009, 20:30

    Jim and the head scientist at Te Papa actually worked together on a paper studying what the yellow eyed mullet eats and they found the bait food with stomachs full of a new species of fly found to hatch in sea-weed lying on the beach. By getting rid of this beach cast seaweed the food source of these important little fish is devastated. These fish also were full of roe ready to spawn. The fish spawn in the intertidal zone so partway up streams and rivers such as the Korokoro stream. You’ll also find that Jim has done research on the way planting have been done by the council. Native flora planted in the banks of a watercourse are much more effective in preventing bank erosion than the exotic flora that the Hutt Council have planted on the tops of the banks.

  5. TaurangaDolphins, 6. August 2009, 9:43

    In any marine eco system there is a balance. This can be disturbed naturally: flood, change of PH in the water, excessive temperatures in weather patterns, excessive cold etc. But largely natural changes are not an issue.
    Over-fishing in recent decades has had a global impact on fish populations and probably behaviour as well. The biggest threats to New Zealand eco systems are undoubtedly mussel farms which are prolific filter feeders and deplete plancton. This plancton already naturally supports other species in a complex balanced life web. Permits have been issued for huge offshore mussel farms which will deplete plancton and change the system in ways that people probably haven’t predicted, or for economic reasons which they don’t want to publicise.

    As for the commercial harvesting of sea weed, same thing applies, it will be a tragedy for all species not just dolphins.

    I have spent 40 years at sea, more than 20 with marine mammals commercially and my observations are that all species including dolphins are at risk by excessive manipulation of local and national eco-systems by commercial and recreational activity.

    That is the sad state of affairs. Best of luck.

  6. Aimee M., 7. August 2009, 12:13

    I eat my food raw, therefore, not heating the biosphere with energy to cook the life out of it. One needs less raw food to sustain greater and longer physical and mental exertion than a whole plate of dead, dead, dead slop.I don’t bother fish in their environment- eg trying to kill them by hook or net (like fishers who also kill the very dolphins they are ‘TRYING’ to protect). I don’t take whole reproductive individuals out of their ecosystem and then expect others to support the whole balance of the universe so “I” can fish out whatever species “I” want to “FOR RECREATION” !!!!!!!…..remember to do your “own bit” of leaving a “light footprint” on this planet with a clear conscience and there would not be the imbalance of greed and environmental destruction we see now.

  7. bertram sømme, 21. October 2012, 3:43

    I have been studying seaweed harvesting worldwide – you can read the results of my internet research on http://stopptt.no/
    Initialy i was quite open to the idea – but everything saying that it was ok environmentaly came from one source – the company doing the harvesting – all the other sources were neutral or simply stated facts and the facts say very simply this – you cannot safely allow any large company to take over any part of your environment. Sooner or later they will become powerful enough to own the science and the facts it produces.
    Harvesting in the wild occurs in most countries – there desperately needs to be a unified front disseminating information and facts – fao has produced a paper saying how much seaweed there is worldwide and how unfortunate it is that it is not being exploited more –

    anyone care to join?