Tall tales and fishing go together like All Blacks and winning.

But it is the World Wildlife Fund that is telling the whoppers in a current campaign aimed at influencing the Government over marine protected areas.

WWF, traditionally one of the more credible and responsible environmental NGOs, appears to have abandoned that reputation in a series of full page advertisements in the country’s metropolitan newspapers.

Is this New Zealand’s biggest fishing whopper?, the headline asks.

The Deepwater Group has responded that WWF’s claim that “less than 1 percent of New Zealand’s marine environment meets the international standard of a Marine Protected Area” is simply not true.

“New Zealand has protected over 30 percent of waters managed under our jurisdiction (ie, 0 to 200 nautical miles) through the use of MPAs, the largest contribution to that protection being Benthic Protected Areas,” chief executive George Clement wrote in a letter to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash.

“New Zealand’s MPAs equate to more than 14 times the size of New Zealand’s protected land area and more than four times the size of New Zealand’s land area overall, which is one of the largest networks of MPAs in the world.

“The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) acknowledges that different forms of protection contribute to Aichi target 11 (an international agreement calling for protection of 10 percent of marine areas by 2020), including those that allow for sustainable use like New Zealand’s Benthic Protection Areas.

“These MPAs have been internationally recognised for their contribution to New Zealand’s conservation estate, to New Zealand’s international obligations and to global marine protection efforts.”

The BPAs were set up over a decade ago at the instigation of the deepwater sector and introduced by then Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton.

They extend from sub-tropical waters in the north to the sub-Antarctic in the south, covering all types of marine environment.

Three are situated on the Chatham Rise region, the country’s most productive deepwater fishery.

Clement has also sought to put the record straight with the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society, whose members are being lobbied by WWF, pointing out no bottom trawling or dredging can take place in a BPA. Mid water trawling is permitted but only if two observers are aboard and an electronic net monitoring system ensures the gear does not go below 100 metres above the seabed.

There has only ever been one application for a mining permit in a BPA (Chatham Rock Phosphate) and that was declined by the Environmental Protection Authority.

The fact is in New Zealand waters MPAs currently protect:

  • 12 percent of the territorial sea

  • 30 percent of the Exclusive Economic Zone

  • 10 percent or more of each of the marine environment classifications

  • 28 percent of underwater topographic features

  • 52 percent of known true seamounts

  • 88 percent of known active hydrothermal vents

  • six designated marine mammal sanctuaries, the largest off the North Island’s west coast to protect Maui dolphins

None of this is acknowledged in the WWF campaign, which is supported by the US-based Pew Foundation, which was founded on oil drilling.

“We believe New Zealanders deserve honest reporting,” WWF says.

So does the seafood industry and we look forward to a little more of it from activists who believe the end justifies the means.