A decision that will define us.

In less than two weeks the NZ Government will be signing off on a crucial proposal regarding Marine Protection in the Ross Sea. That proposal will determine whether we support continued commercial fishing in the area or not, and will speak volumes about the values and principals of us as a nation.

Being its nearest neighbour, New Zealand plays a key role in the guardianship of the Ross Sea. This up-coming decision is a great opportunity to provide real leadership and cement our connection to this remote and remarkable corner of the world.

The Ross Sea – as far south as you can go on the ocean.

The issue in a nutshell. In 1996 a New Zealand fishing vessel travelled south for 3000 km to the most remote and pristine ocean on earth – the Ross Sea Antarctica. It went in search of Antarctic toothfish and found plenty. Other nations followed and the fishery that developed now plans to reduce the population of adult Antarctic toothfish by 50%. Scientists say fishing will destroy the natural balance of the Ross Sea and we will loose our last living laboratory – a place that can teach us about the workings of all marine ecosystems. The film’s trailer offers a basic summary.

What’s at stake is not just the natural balance of the Ross Sea – it’s the health of the entire planet. The days of travelling to far off lands to exploit their resources are long gone. We now know there very few stretches of untouched ocean are left and this ancestral way of thinking has no place in our global age where it is common knowledge that the state of the oceans are in severe decline.

The opportunity for protecting the Ross Sea is ripe. In 2007 CCAMLR, the organisation that manages the waters around Antarctica committed to creating a network of marine protected areas by 2012 and the Ross Sea, the jewel in Antarctica’s crown – is one. This is our chance to get it right – to really protect the Ross Sea -not just parts of it.

For New Zealand, phasing out commercial fishing will be a bold move but one with foresight, intelligence and courage. To stand against the tide of our insatiable global economy and say – we will no longer fish the Ross Sea, that we believe it has too much natural value to exploit – would send a very clear message to the international community. Actions speak louder than words.

We’ve done it before. The last time we did something on this scale was when we stood up to the international community and banned nuclear ships and weapons. The value that that decision added to our country was enormous – economically it brought in billions as people and markets became attracted to Clean Green New Zealand. It also gave us huge cultural confidence and added to our national identity, something immeasurable but invaluable.

The point I make is that we shouldn’t be fearful of taking a stand that will without doubt go against current thought. Current thought is determined by current demands and usually centred around currency. The Ross Sea is about the bigger picture, about future generations and the well-being of the planet.

Stuart Prior, the New Zealand diplomat instrumental in starting the Ross Sea  fishery back in 1996 says it was a mistake. The fishery turned into something that was never intended. All it will take now is for Minister McCully to walk his talk and lead the way – we have one chance and one great opportunity to leave this legacy.

Humanity can get it right. The point in case is the Antarctic Treaty. This amazing agreement signed at the height of the Cold War set aside the entire continent in the co-operative spirit of peace and science. There is already huge amounts of protection afforded in the region. The fishery is a source of conflict, it goes against the spirit of the treaty. It doesn’t actually make a lot of money (a little over 1% of the fishing industry annual revenue) and it poses very real and imminent threat to human life and the environment.

In the next few days I will address some of the key concerns the NZ Government has about withdrawing our fishing presence from the Ross Sea, and point to some creative alternatives. Thanks for reading – if you like pass it on, the next week is critical. We need to spread the word and put as much pressure on the Government as possible to make the right decision.

Peter Young

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