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Katharine Moody on Government options for bottom trawling, pokies, synthetic nitrogen, agricultural emissions and the Billion Trees policy

Katharine Moody on Government options for bottom trawling, pokies, synthetic nitrogen, agricultural emissions and the Billion Trees policy

This week’s Top 5 is from Katharine Moody, a senior tutor at Massey University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences in Palmerston North, who comments on as "Kate".

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

1.  Ban bottom trawling in our EEZ

New Zealand Geographic’s latest issue looks at the economic, social and environmental downsides of our Fisheries Quota Management System (QMS), and the failings of repeated governments to modernise the outdated neoliberal policy framework. There are many other downsides to the QMS, but the policy that permits bottom trawling is the most ecologically destructive.

Around 40% of the commercial catch in the Hauraki Gulf is caught by bottom-trawling, which involves pulling a chain-edged net along the sea floor…

“If New Zealanders really care, they should ask where the fish comes from,” says Bishop. “They should spend more money buying my fish and stop buying the trawl fish.”

… a common criticism of the QMS is that it doesn’t distinguish between fishing methods, regardless of their environmental impact.

As Paul McCartney suggests, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.  And so too for seafood, if the sight of our seabed destruction was an in-your-face daily reality.

The system-wide impacts of scraping the sea floor are legion, he says. Chemicals in sediments that would normally escape slowly are released in pulses every time the trawl or dredge gear goes over them, and the relative abundance of species is changed. The destruction of corals, sponges and gorgonians causes the deaths of juvenile fish and reduces their habitat—and affects global processes that we’re only just beginning to understand.

“Those animals are profoundly important in the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle. The continental shelves make up just 7.5 per cent of the surface of the planet but they’re the most important for those processes.”

The continental shelves experience the most fishing pressure, but the industry’s environmental impact there goes largely unregulated and unstudied, he says. “They have profoundly changed the nature of some habitats that will take millennia to recover.”

Millennia to recover.  We need to demonstrate to the world, responsible stewardship in this critical policy area.  Plenty of other countries have done it.

2.  Ban pokies

Stuff recently ran this three-part series on the campaign from a lawyer, an ex-addict, a retired maths teacher, a social worker, a grandmother, a Māori warden and a former mayoral candidate to rid us of the scourge of pokie dens in our communities;

In their sights is every dingy pokie bar and dodgy bottle store. And they've got the law on their side - in theory, if not always in practice.

"This is David against Goliath, because they have virtually unlimited resources and can hire the best lawyers and accountants," says the lawyer, former corporate suit Grant Hewison. "But what I'd say we have on our side is the truth."

Like many of the problems we have in our natural environment, the near total absence of enforcement actions by our regulators results in harm that should not be tolerated by any government, particularly as in this case, the harm arises from questionably lawful activity;

There's a bit in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act which says you cannot hold a tavern licence if your primary activity is gambling. Licensing committees must weigh up whether a venue looks like a pokie den (is it shabby, dominated by pokies, has a small bar area), if it offers decent food and entertainment, and what revenue it derives from alcohol sales versus pokie fees.

Hewison fights against these places keeping their licences. Wilson, and others, gather the evidence.

The Avengers are winning, as are many other community groups fighting this scourge, but why has it come down to citizen volunteers being the first line of defence regarding regulatory enforcement?  

To make the issue a non-issue, the Coalition Government should simply ban pub/neighbourhood pokies altogether, as they are of no social benefit, aside from propping up sports clubs.  There must be 101 more socially responsible ways to do that.

3.  Ban synthetic nitrogen 

Last week, the UN launched its global campaign on better nitrogen management, explaining:

The bad news is that the nitrogen problem has so far received little attention outside scientific circles. The good news is that in addressing it we can significantly roll back the damage from the three challenges I have just touched on – climate change, air pollution and land degradation.

Roughly 80% of the synthetic nitrogen we use as fertiliser to grow food goes to waste. Much of this wasted nitrogen leaks into our rivers, lakes and seas, feeding algal blooms that deplete oxygen and destroy life. These “dead zones” have quadrupled in size since 1950. The largest, in the Baltic Sea, can reach 70,000 km2 – an area almost twice the size of Denmark [and more than twice the size of NZ].

From a climate change and water quality perspective, I’d far rather we remove agricultural emissions from our international obligations regards climate action (see my next entry), and instead ban the use of synthetic nitrogen.  It’s a two-birds with one-stone type policy.

As Mike Joy points out in this podcast (from 20 minutes in  - although the whole conversation is worth listening to), Lincoln University have demonstrated how to farm at higher profits with lesser environmental impacts.

4.  Can the inclusion of agricultural emissions in the Zero Carbon Bill/Act

The Coalition government has effectively kicked the can down the road anyway, so why not just be pragmatically honest, and put the consideration of ruminant GHG emissions into the dustbin – forever?  That is the argument put forward by the authors in ‘Greenhouse Gases – A More Realistic View’.

Despite what camp we inhabit on the ‘A’ in the AGW debate, I believe we can all agree that global hazards arising from extreme weather events are immense, and the socioeconomic costs are exponentially rising.  We will have to meet these costs.

Whether or not the scientific arguments on either side of the mitigation debate are right or wrong, I think New Zealand would be best served by following the authors’ recommendations that:

Based on the information presented we conclude that the GWP value of 25 (and rising) for CH4, and between 265 and 310 for N2O, is incorrect… [and] the generally accepted GHG effects of CH4 and N2O, almost 50% of the total New Zealand emissions, must be seriously questioned…

Consequently, it is suggested that these gases be removed from New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, and that the supporting case for such treatment be prepared for negotiation with our international partners.   

For the simplest form of climate policy, we would count only carbon dioxide emissions; put a tax on carbon emitters (with no concessions for the Emissions Intensive, Trade Exposed (EITE) industries) and scrap the ETS.  Additionally, we would cost-recover public transport based on its emissions profile only. 

Provided we kept increasing capacity on PT to meet increased demand, with the above framework AND a ban on synthetic nitrogen, we’d likely meet our Paris commitments without the need for any other policy initiatives.

5.  Can the subsidies on exotic plantings in the One Billion Trees policy   

Jane Clifton’s recent article in New Zealand Listener, ’Out on a limb: How to fix New Zealand's flawed forestry policy’ covers the trend of carbon-forest investors outbidding farmers for rural land, noting that: 

North Island forestry land prices have risen from $6656 a hectare to $13,128 in the year to April… [and Shane] Jones’ forestry officials have had to go back to the drawing board to reconsider the parameters of his One Billion Trees Programme.

It is a good study in perverse incentives associated with cap and trade carbon policy, combined with an economic development initiative adding a sweetener on top.  

Still, reluctant as they [the Coalition Government] might be to soften or change any of the courses they’ve set in this intensely complex policy area, the political risk is considerable. The farmland-conversion issue is just one potentially perverse incentive that, between Billion Trees and the ETS, could bedevil the Government’s best intentions.

Given the disaster that ravaged Tolaga Bay, taxpayer subsidies on radiata pine have the potential to produce similar ecological harm to that arising from government subsidies on irrigation.  And like irrigation, it is near impossible for industry to mitigate for the effects of this inappropriate land-use.  Native bush is the only way to combat this type of future destruction.

Happily, the Coalition Government canned the irrigation subsidies, let’s hope they do the same for Pinus radiata.

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Katherine .. in part 3 you bracket NZ as being half the size of a 70 000 km sq algal bloom .... in fact the land area of NZ is 268 000 sq km .... Denmark is just 42 000 sq km ...

... agree wholeheartedly with banning pokies and banning bottom trawling fishing ....

Oops, I think I had inflated the 70,000 to 700,000 in my mind. Should not work late into the night :-).

Glad you're on board with 1 and 2.


... on board with all 5 , Kate ... but particularly hate the damage pokies do ....and the bottom trawl fishing is ghastly ... if we smashed native forests in that manner to harvest a few desirable trees there's be outrage ... but the sea bed is outta sight ... so , outta mind ..

Agree with the Can the Forestry subsidies as to the monoculture aspect, but it's a much more nuanced approach needed if the broad objective - re-vegetate land not suitable for farming with longer-lived trees - is to be realised. For starters, and as people like Hugh Wilson have demonstrated, it takes decades to even get started via nurse crops such as (take a deep breath) Gorse, and there's no 'planting' involved - Gaia manages all that.

So there's little employment, precious few Carbon Credits generated while the nurse crops come and go, and certainly zero prospect of log crops from mature trees for a century or two.

That's not to say it ain't Desirable and Laudable and Worthy of Replication. But it's certainly no economic or social well-being panacea in any short-term/electoral cycle horizon....and that's unavoidable.

In case folks miss the link to it it in your link - here's the full documentary;

When I first watched the documentary, I thought 30 years to get to that, was an amazingly short period of time when you think about the diversity and complexity of the ecosystem regenerated. I do wish we could find some sort of crop (aside from timber) that could be harvested from our native bush. Bee keeping comes to mind but surely there would be others if we devoted some R&D to it.

Agree, short-termism is a serious social, and hence electoral ill.

But of course, in that same 30 years, the offshore crop owners could have cashed in on one full cycle of radiata pine Carbon Credits (devil take the second and later rotations). Perverse doesn't begin to describe it.....

Couldn't agree more. How sad that no matter what colour/stripe our turn of the millennia leaders have been, they sell us out every time.

Stuff the manuka honey, rewarewa is just the buzzness, so much taste love it.

The whole ideology around the treatment of agricultural emissions and forestry carbon offsets is flawed. Simon Upton is on the right track with forestry carbon offsets only being available for agricultural emissions, and that's if we even need to go that far.
The carbon inputs into agriculture are from the atmosphere. Cows don't eat fossil fuels, unlike motor vehicles and airliners. Still, you can see from the electoral maps that Labour and Green voters are urban, and they want a scapegoat to blame to ease their consciences when flying away on their latest overseas holiday.

I agree, offset ideology is flawed - comes from the neoliberal ideology of the day back then. How in the world we have failed to shake it off from a policy/regulatory perspective never ceases to amaze me. It's baked in to the RMA by way of the notion of mitigation of adverse effects. Had we just settled on avoiding or remedying them, we'd be in a much better place today.

And I agree, Simon Upton's argument (if one must follow that ideology/doctrine) was more sensible, more pragmatic and probably far more economically and ecologically beneficial to NZ as a whole.

Especially when it comes to CH4, methane has so little influence that it is negligible.

Good explanation here:

References here :

2. Ban Pokies

There are 1000s of online gambling sites available. These offer bigger prizes and operate 24/7. They provide nothing to our NZ community by way of taxation or grant money. They are not regulated by NZ and will profit if we ban our pokies. They also have the disadvantage of hiding the addictive behaviors out of public view.

Banning pokies, or other types of regulated gambling, is bad for addicts and bad for NZ. A real two'fer of awfulness.

Pokies.. meh..
Where do i vote for these policys?

TOP .... but without Gareth Morgans backing they'll struggle .. the environments right for a new centre right political party ....

... failing that . .. the weathers hot ... just have an ice cream , it will make you happy .... haaaaaa ....

Yeah crazy ice cream world we live in... Prefer to vote on policys rather than parties.
And if you really want to make me happy... halve my power bill and mow my berm.

I'll blithely ignore the Advertising Standards Authority and publicly admit that Haagen Das's " Speciloos " ice cream makes me happy ..
... there , I've said it ... ice cream makes me happy !

4. The best way to tackle global climate change would be to tax for carbon footprint at point of sale. Creating a sales tax (GST analogue) based on pollution inherent in production of the goods or service. This disincentivises global pollution by changing consumer behavior.

The taxing of emissions is fundamentally flawed, effectively incentivising pollution in the parts of the globe with lowest regulatory competence. An ETS is even more flawed in that establishes a global commodity (carbon credit) that increases in value as pollution increases - the idea of an ETS is in my opinion completely insane.

The problem with a PoS tax is that then takes no account of efficiency or lack of it at the back end. Way better to tax the initial producer(s) as that then is an incentive to clean up as they will have the most expensive end product and shoppers will shop elsewhere.

I agree in one respect with a PoS tax, I do think its nuts for NZ to produce food for 20million, only eat 4.5million's worth of it but get "hammered" for all of it.

Except we cannot tax at point of manufacturing, because we don't have access to tax at anywhere outside of NZ. We are reliant on the regulators there. A pos achieves cost increase also with more reliable data.

That would indeed be ideal. Calculating those carbon footprints would need to be a globally agreed data collection and application initiative. The World Economic Forum has a data capture/SI initiative at the moment - not intended to do what you are suggesting, but we are definitely becoming collectively capable of creating such a system;

This runs straight into the BOM explosion problem: when one considers that supermarkets run 25-35,000 SKU's, cars are made of 5-10,000 bits from multiple and frequently changing suppliers, and that mode of delivery (air, sea, sail, rail, truck, EV, cargo bike) significantly affects the footprint, the footprint calculation presents an insuperable problem. So it won't evah happen, unless (as we see with Ag emissions here) hugely simplified, one-size-fits-all methods and assumptions are adopted, which promptly destroys the very localism that needs to underpin acceptance.

Imposition of pos tax allows avoidance through solving the information deficit problem. If the supplier can provide a informational frame work that details their footprint better than the competition they gain a tax advantage, because arbitrary fees will be imposed otherwise. Compare this to the emissions tax or ets models where tax is avoided by shifting production to areas with lowest effective taxation.

Reward or punish plantation forestry by forcing ‘slash’ to be processed immediately on felling, either by partial combustion to create charcoal ( sequestratable for 40000 years as a soil additive) or bury and anaerobically produce methane for processing into hydrogen and graphite (Hazer process), again sequestering the carbon.
Also makes the land immediately plantable.

Hard to even retrieve slash that's 50m down a gully with 60 degree slope sides in erodable, slippery-if-wet clay, let alone 'process' it. Gaia does the processing via the next heavy rainfall, as the photo shows.

Great place for a bonfire then.
Give them an ultimatum to sort out the mess or leave the country.
Wasn’t one of them the group that committed to build a plant to further process and ever did?

Is ocean burial a good method of achieving carbon sequestration?

"As Paul McCartney suggests, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian."

Shows how ignorant he is really. How many FAL holders and hence hunters are there in NZ? Not only would they not flinch at a window they may even want to stand and watch to improve their technique.

And with the pest issue (even if one confines it to goats, stoats, weasels, possums, thar etc), NZ faces, a lotta unflinching types are gonna be needed to trap, shoot, poison, gene-drive-exterminate and generally to mow 'em all down. Disclosure, I personally accounted for 3 outta 7 goats in a 5-hunter shoot a while ago. Woulda been more if I had had an MSSA....

MSSA, Lol. Bugger eh, do you mean you were stupid enough to give it back? Or not smart enough to have one? :-P Or were you just playing fair?

1. Bottom trawling is just crazy. Stop it now.
2. Pokies. Not one point of argument in their favour. They gotta be eliminated.
The harm is well known. Less often discussed is the nature of the industry. I knew somebody quite well who was involved. Astonishing. The entire setup is mafia like. Cash disappears into thin air. Hidden kickbacks abound. Internal Affairs did a reasonable supervision job, but can't win really.
A cancer on the hospitality industry.