The environmental management of New Zealand’s fiords was hindered by the absence of a single co-ordinating agency. Fiordland’s terrestrial environment is protected under the National Parks Act 1980; however, its jurisdiction stops short of the water, at the high-tide mark. The marine ecosystem is excluded from both Fiordland National Park and the Southwest New Zealand Te Waipounamu World Heritage Area.
Two small marine reserves were established in Fiordland in 1993 in an attempt to protect the animals within them. These were the Te Awaatu Channel (The Gut) Marine Reserve in Doubtful Sound, and Piopiotahi in Milford Sound.
There has been regular commercial fishing in the fiords for over 50 years. The main species which are targeted are blue cod, crayfish and pāua (abalone). Other fisheries have been proposed for sea cucumbers and sea urchins.
The greatest threat to the fiords comes from increasing accessibility and tourism. In 2005, about a third of all overseas tourists to New Zealand visited Fiordland. A boom in recreational fishing and diving has brought an increase in destruction from curio hunters, anchors, moorings, craypots, and sewage disposal. The impact of individual eco-tourism activities is low; however, their cumulative effect is significant.
Because there was no other management body, the Guardians of Fiordland Fisheries and Marine Environment was formed in 1995. The group is made up of representatives of tangata whenua, the fishing industry and charter operators. They have identified a number of management issues and made wide-ranging and practical recommendations. Of special note is their recognition of areas of high biodiversity that need special protection.
Bulls in china shops
Small discrete areas with fragile animal communities were likened to china shops by the Fiordland Guardians. The group realised that even dropping a heavy anchor into one of these areas could cause irreparable damage. They considered themselves the bulls that must be kept out of the china shops.
Acknowledging the need for conserving representative areas, the Guardians proposed making the whole of Sutherland Sound a marine reserve. In response, the New Zealand government passed the Fiordland Marine Management Act 2005, which ensured that 928,000 hectares were set aside as a special management area, and created eight new marine reserves. With the continued support of government and an increasing public awareness of conservation issues, there is a good chance that the fiords will remain a rich and unique environment.