Fisheries Minister urged to drop marine protection court challenge
First steps by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to protect the Otaiti/Astrolabe Reef are at risk, unless a court case challenging Resource Management Act (RMA) management of our coastal marine area is dropped.
Following a High Court judicial ruling last year, an Environment Court decision has now directed the Council to begin the process of protecting three coastal ecosystems including the reef from fishing impacts, using the RMA.
“We urge the Minister to celebrate this wonderful outcome for New Zealand’s marine biodiversity,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague, “and direct the Ministry of Primary Industries to drop its court case challenging RMA controls on fishing.”
After the container ship Rena foundered on the Otaiti/Astrolabe Reef in 2011, a temporary closure prevented fishing in the area and marine life thrived. But when the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) lifted the closure in 2016 the area was cleaned out again.
The Motiti Rohe Moana Trust asked the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to place controls over fishing there, but the Council claimed the law did not allow it to do so. Together with Forest & Bird, the Trust took court cases which ruled that regional councils can manage fisheries to protect native biodiversity.
The Otaiti/Astrolabe Reef is among the first marine areas in line for protection and Council this week provided draft wording on how marine protection will be provided for.
“This is the first time the RMA has been used to protect important marine ecosystems and surrounding ‘buffer zones’”, says Mr Hague. “It’s a hugely important step in a long process and has implications across the entire country.
“But it’s extremely disappointing that MPI is still seeking to challenge the ability of Councils to protect native marine biodiversity through the RMA,” he adds.
Forest & Bird has long critiqued MPI for failing to prevent over-fishing of commercial fish species, allowing unsustainable bycatch of protected species, and permitting the degradation of marine environments.
The Environment Court agreed with Forest & Bird’s position, stating in paragraph 155 of its decision that: “MPI have refused to intervene and take steps to protect this area, notwithstanding the undisputed values recognised.”
The Environment Court also noted that a decline in snapper stocks in the area is consistent with a general loss of biodiversity, and stated that it was disturbed by the level of bycatch reported.
Both MPI and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council claimed that any new regulations would be hard to enforce, citing among other things, limitations in camera technology. This concern was dismissed by the Environment Court, which said that enforceability would improve with ‘improved technology’.
“This is a big hurry up to the Minister of Fishing, to release his plan for rolling out cameras on all commercial fishing boats,” says Mr Hague.