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The Last Ocean - Peter YoungGareth Morgan

Email exchange between Peter Young and I after the “Last Ocean” premier

The following is an email exchange between Myself and Peter Young, Director of “The Last Ocean”.  We are both focussed on how to stop fishing in the Ross Sea Region, but each have a very different approach on how to achieve that end.

Article continues below….

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[message_box title=”Gareth” color=”#fff”]

Hi Peter,

I enjoyed your film. I think you present your case clearly – no fishing because it’s the “last ocean”.

As you know I disagree with the logic;

(a) There is no logic to claiming that the world’s most pristine ocean should be the leading candidate for a moratorium on fishing which is your case. I happen to side with Daniel Pauly (as I outlined in Hook, Line and Blinkers) that wild fish harvesting has grossly overshot. The answer is to pull back fishing across the globe and most importantly in those areas where the current harvest is greatest. Saving the toothfish is 99% symbolism and 1% material to that priority. It doesn’t even qualify as a start really. That leads me to question the rationale for the whole crusade, so much effort for such a trivial gain..



[message_box title=”Peter” color=”Green”]

Hi Gareth – thanks for the email and for coming to the film. I appreciated that. It’s good to get your position in more detail and I have responded below.

Cheers Peter….

This is simply about wanting to protect an incredibly unique, natural environment in an area that is already afforded a great deal of protection – natural and political. Given the declining state of the world’s oceans – protection of the Ross Sea is not a trivial gain but a hugely important one. It would be a triumph for common sense – like the treaty itself. I would say the trivial gain is the 40 or so million the toothfish earns the different nations each year – compared to huge loss for future generations. The Ross Sea is a global treasure – like the Serengeti and it fully deserves protection.


[message_box title=”Gareth” color=”#fff”]Yes the issue is whether controlled toothfish fishing is doing as you claim – destroying the ecosystem. Your opponents would claim they’re not threatening the “unique, natural environment”. So for me that becomes a matter of evidence. I’m with you in not wanting at all to see it destroyed, so does the evidence suggest it is? Surely that’s where the discussion should be directed. We can’t even be 100% sure it’s protected if there was no fishing going on – climate change is at least as big a threat. And then we have the issue of CCAMLR requiring everyone to agree otherwise its status quo or worse. So for your call to work we need Ukraine, Korea and Russia to agree too – with the huge risk if there’s no agreement then it could become open slather.[/message_box]

(b)  CCAMLR is about sustainable use, harvesting and associated activities. So a moratorium is not within its scope.

[message_box title=”Peter” color=”Green”]CCAMLR is not only about sustainable use – it was set up to conserve Antarctica’s marine resources – one clause allows for rational use amongst a whole heap about protecting the environment. It is only since this fishery started that CCAMLR’s focus has moved more into fisheries management. The opportunity that exists now is a result of CCAMLR’s commitment to establish MPA’s. Now is our chance to make the right decision and I believe it is in everyone’s long term interests to not fish in the Ross Sea. It is environmentally risky, it is a source of conflict, it doesn’t actually make that much money.

I accept that ccamlr is doing a good a job under those circumstances and that this is the frame that we have to work within..[/message_box]

[message_box title=”Gareth” color=”Green”]Now all power to you in getting a moratorium but my genuine fear is that you manage just partial success – ie; one or two CCAMLR members agreeing with you. I see that as being a disaster and If that should happen I’d kiss the toothfish goodbye within 5 years because it would amount to a breakdown of the consensus. As you no doubt well aware Russia and the Ukraine have been aggressively pushing for a lift in catch limits. With no consensus they can go for gold, no longer constrained. This is why I see tub thumping activism as totally reckless – reminds me of the whaling breakdown and who caused that.[/message_box]

[message_box title=”Peter” color=”Green”]We are asking for a moratorium with consensus and of course that’s a challenge but despite that I genuinely believe there is a possibility – despite how small that possibility may be I wasn’t prepared to sit back and not give it a try.

I realize the ask needs to be more than asking for a halt to fishing, it needs a whole paradigm shift and we need to be offering alternative ways to benefit from the Ross Sea –  I believe there are better uses than simply fishing (Stuart Prior agrees too). Selling the Ross Sea as a pristine ecosystem for the world to see and share – Tourism has potential to earn more $ than fishing and as an industry is more easy to regulate in terms of vessels. It celebrates what is special about he RS, creates awareness and ambassadors.

I’m fully aware that any change needs to happen within the CCAMLR consensus system. If NZ was to withdraw from fishing and form an alliance with US and try to convince other nations then that’s a bloody good start. We can’t do that while we are still down there fishing. Convincing other nations won’t  happen overnight but it could happen – it just take political will. No nukes put us on the world stage – gave us huge kudos and contributed significantly to the Clean Green image that we have since traded on ever since. It has added hugely to our economy. The RS offers NZ a similar opportunity to show leadership in the field of conservation.

CCAMLR has incredible laws of protection that the fishery already exists under. If NZ pulled out – the worst case scenario is that other nations would continue to fish under these regulations, while we and other nations would continue to pressure them to not fish. I don’t believe it will turn into a free for all. We need to make the most of this current opportunity when MPA’s are on CCAMLR’s agenda to protect as match of the Ross Sea as we can.

In an ideal world Gareth – would you like to see an area like the Ross Sea protected? if the answer is yes, then why not give it a go? [/message_box]

[message_box title=”Gareth” color=”Green”] Firstly protection is not necessarily at odds with fishing, which you assume it is. Certainly if the fishing management is insufficient then it would be of course by definition. The risk of a breakdown in the consensus leading to an open season is for me, not worth the risk of your tactic. Basically I see AOA as pretty reckless, deploying similar tactics that failed with whales. I see at times it’s all about the glory rather than a well calculated assessment of risk. [/message_box]

(c) And finally the glass house problem. It seems incredibly hypocritical to be attacking CCAMLR when we come from a country that doesn’t even have a “whole of ecology” approach.

[message_box title=”Peter” color=”Green”]I genuinely am not anti-fishing. I understand that the issue we face in the RS is because of humanities demand for fish – and that ‘s what sends the boats there – along with the need for these guys to run a business. When ever asked –  I have said that NZ is setting the standard down there – but that’s obviously having very little affect (judging by last year’s performance of other boats) nor is it in my mind, justification for us to be there.

If you would like to meet up with Stuart Prior, I would be happy to introduce you to him. Stuart has respect for Greg Johansson and a broad outlook and some thoughts on other options.[/message_box]

[message_box title=”Gareth” color=”Green”]I know Stuart and I haven’t seen any logic from him on this that impresses me. For me the best way to attack CCAMLR – and remember I do support no fishing in the Ross Sea and in a hell of a lot of other areas in the world besides (that was in our book) – is to show up these MSC accreditation & CCAMLR science conclusions as not being based on reliable science at all, that the accuracy of the science on this species is crippled due to lack of data on spawning areas, eggs, larvae; ignorance on spawning intervals. This gap makes the error margins huge.

This is where I would launch my attack rather than play the political game and run the risk of making things heaps worse and very fast.[/message_box]

[message_box title=”Peter” color=”Green”]Thanks Gareth – you have certainly livened up the debate and that’s a good thing,

All the best, Peter. [/message_box]

[message_box title=”Gareth” color=”Green”]Happy to publicly debate this with anyone. It is clear we want the same outcome but have totally different risk profiles in terms of achieving that end.[/message_box]

Anyway I really hope that I could wake up and you and AOA have convinced all 25 members to adopt a moratorium. I just find the tactic way too high risk because of the risk of partial success only.

All the best with the film



  • Manuela Gmuer Hornell

    excellent… without the media interfering – thanks!

  • Rupert Bryant-Greene

    Gareth Morgan FOR PARLIAMENT

  • Mike Sheridan

    Was a good film. I saw a link between the toothfish and the early fishing of orange roughy, where it was a free for all before the research could be done to determine what was sustainable under the quota system, We just don’t know enough about the toothfish yet.

  • Juanita Kil

    Now THAT is how two gentleman enagage in a healthy, respectful debate. No mud slinging, no media spin. Nice one guys. And an interesting and important discussion

  • Dean McGaveston

    I do agree that there need to be areas of the planet (land or water) set aside as “reserves”, just as Antarctica was supposed to be a reserve – a protected continent.
    BUT – there needs to be a realisation that the stocks of fish in the oceans of the world are finite – it isn’t as though the stocks of fish are replenished by aliens visiting the earth (stupid) – they problem is OURS and the solution is easily at hand.
    There are certain zones, sub-oceans if you will, within the global oceanic systems, where fish breed. These breeding grounds may not necessarily be where the grown fish are extracted, and furthermore, the fry of one economic species may develop within the fishing zone of another economic and harvested species. So controls to ensure that only the target species is harvested need to be in place.
    In my world fisheries would be given a quoter, allocated by a global overseer, and a percentage of the return would be ploughed into breeding programmes – in locations where that particular fish breeds.
    This is important, because the fish harvested within the aquatic economic zone of one country may in fact breed and grow in a reserve within a different aquatic economic zone, managed by another a completely different country. Each country subscribing to the “fisheries accord” has to actively demonstrate the desire and will to protect the global resource, punishing those who violate the accord – and make it very public.

  • ghostrider

    Just one thing to add to this very measured and civil discussion: how, Peter, would our territory be monitored if we pulled out from fishing? NZ could act as a kind of self-appointed park ranger and continue Orion sweeps and offshore patrols, but we’d be footing the whole bill and trying to sell it to a voting public who would struggle to see what return we gained on our investment. Your film helps bring the wonder of the place to your audience, but how willing would Joe and Jo public be to put their money where their mouths are?

  • Mick McCrohon

    Gareth Morgan should be our Prime Minister …and we don’t need him to be National or Labour or Green etc …just Prime Minister .

  • Barbs Peterson

    i wish politicians could debate as respectfully as this!

  • Geoff Keey

    Ghost rider – Firstly, it’s not ‘our’ territory.  NZ’s claim to the region is ‘on ice’ under the Antarctic Treaty.  Secondly, under the CCAMLR rules for creating marine reserves, countries proposing marine reserves have to explain how it will be monitored.  Thirdly if New Zealand was unwilling to police illegal fishing in the region, we may find that other countries, particularly the US, take it on.  Fourthly, international experience shows that once countries close an area to fishing they are usually very keen to make sure no-one else is fishing in the closed area. Fifth, the result of all this is that if NZ refused to monitor fishing, someone else would be likely to, resulting in a significant loss of status for New Zealand in CCAMLR and the Antarctic Treaty system.  Finally the Orion crews need a certain amount of flying time every year so there would be no additional cost – just the opportunity cost of not being available for other duties. New Zealand’s offshore patrol vessels are designed to go south.

    • ghostrider

       @Geoff Keey  Thanks, Geoff. First: understood that it’s not our territory in the sense that the subantarctics etc are our territory, but the ‘on ice’ aspect of the treaty doesn’t stop us acting as though it is our territory. That’s why we’re in there in the first place. Our belief in our responsibility to the region certainly stems from our interest in it, both the frozen claim to sovereignty, and to the economic return we receive from fishing there (paltry though it may be). Second: just because the CCAMLR rules would oblige us to see that someone would monitor a closed-down Ross Sea Marine Reserve if ‘we’ imposed one doesn’t change the logic: why and how would we monitor it, or see that it was monitored, if we had no economic interest in it? The present NZ govt proposal for an MPA balances the two, and it makes sense. We’ll monitor it, because we benefit. Third: ‘We may well find that other countries would step in’ wouldn’t stack up as an argument in this context. Why would they, without an equivalent incentive to do so? The USA may have a long history of being the World Police, but they haven’t shown much interest in being the World Park Ranger. Nor would the NZ govt (or other signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, for that matter) be delighted at the prospect of handing over all the obligations to the US, just in case that was later used to claim all the rights. NZ’s interest in the Ross Dependency and the Ross sea isn’t pure altruism, after all. Fourth: how relevant is any international experience to closed fisheries in this context? Can you give me any analogous example at all? The only real examples, apart from internationally managed fisheries (the poor old whales, the even worse off tuna), are territorial waters. If you close your territorial waters, of course you’ll stop others from fishing there. If, of course, you’re arguing that the Ross Sea is NZ’s territory and that we’ll remain really interested in monitoring it once ‘we’ close it, then your first point looks dodgy, and the whole basis on which we monitor it looks suddenly very interesting. Fifth: this looks exactly like the third point, and again, the status that we stand to lose isn’t just that we’ll be left in a corner by ourselves at diplomatic cocktail parties. We’ll have less standing when and if territorial claims suddenly fall on the table again (with the collapse of CCAMLR, or the Treaty, say). Your sixth point is a good one, and I expect the same applies for the Navy, too: it must be a great proving ground for naval hardware to take it through the Southern Ocean every now and again, so that gives me hope.
      To me, regardless of how much I would love to see it happen, the proposal to lock up the whole Ross Sea as an MPA is a ghastly prisoner’s dilemma. Who will sign until they can be sure that everyone will sign? And in the absence of that certainty,  will anyone sign at all?

      • Geoff Keey

         @ghostrider Hi, thanks for your reply.  FYI, AOA proposal does not intend to close the entire Ross Sea, you can see the proposal at and I strongly encourage you to read the report in its entirety.  AOA also knows how diplomacy works – afterall, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, one of the key AOA partners has significant rights at CCAMLR and Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM), including the right to attend negotiations, table text and make interventions and has done so for many years.  On your first point, New Zealand cannot and does not act as if the Ross Sea region is its territory.  It is very careful to work as a partner in the ATCM and CCAMLR and to work with other countries.  In fact one of the reasons why an earlier marine reserve proposal by New Zealand for the Balleny Islands fell over was because NZ was percieved to have ‘its ours’ attitude at the time.  I’m also puzzled why you think New Zealand could impose an MPA in the Ross Sea Region.  New Zealand can do no such thing.  New Zealand can propose one, but then it needs to build a consensus for it.  This is CCAMLR, not the IWC and each country has a veto, not just a vote.  The most recent analygous example of marine protection with enforcement is the closure of the ‘donut holes’ in the Pacific.  These are large areas of high seas between tiny Pacific Island states that have been closed to fishing.  Your prisoners dilemma is why countries have regular negotiating meetings like CCAMLR.  The parties to CCAMLR have already agreed to create Antarctic marine reserves and have already created one.  They will almost certainly create one in the Ross Sea, the only question is how big will it be?  The AOA has identified the areas that deserve protection on their ecological merits, it will be up countries to decide how much of those areas they are willing to protect.  Maybe they will make a largely symbolic marine reserve along the lines of New Zealand’s proposal by protecting from fishing those areas that aren’t much fished anyway, or maybe they will create a marine reserve that actually makes a difference.  Time will tell.

        • ghostrider

           @Geoff Keey  Thanks, Geoff.  I would love to see a meaningful MPA in the Ross Sea, so more power to your elbow. But I have less faith in diplomacy as a force for good in the world. We always seem to end up with realpolitik.
          And by the way, who enforces the closure of the donut areas, and how’s that working out?

        • Geoff Keey

           @ghostrider New Zealand, US, France and Australia are supporting surveillance of the Pacific donut holes.

  • Karen Philpott

    It couldn’t happen because there’s a machine that sucks all humanity, reasonableness, courtesy, and decency plus others, out of the politicians every time they enter parliament!

  • Karen Philpott

    At least that is what appears to happen!

  • Kaiatiaki Tututuru

    Pity I only see two people talking past each other and treating this whole thing as some kind of war or battle including the odd bit of subterfuge thrown in, which is disappointing as there are enough of those going on at the moment. Kaitiakitanga must be transparent. It must look at the whole ecosystem including human. If there is a place for human activity can it be based on sustainability? This is how you keep it transparent. Your aim is to look after those that would look after that which you are trying to protect. This does not neccessarily mean a blanket ban on an activity if it can be proven to be sustainable. Mauriora

  • Curtis Antony Nixon

    Sorry Gareth but I can’t read this. The colour coding doesn’t show. What about your respective initials at the beginning of your pieces?

    • Gareth Morgan

      Hey Curtis. The team were just making some changes to the site and things got broken. Check again now