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.