Marine life protection should be priority

SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT: Barry Luckman of Army Bay says better coastal management is needed. He’s pleased MPI took notice of residents’ concerns about shellfish plundering at Okoromai Bay.
SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT: Barry Luckman of Army Bay says better coastal management is needed. He’s pleased MPI took notice of residents’ concerns about shellfish plundering at Okoromai Bay.

Disgruntled coastal residents and fishermen hope fishing regulations and coastal management will come under the election spotlight.

Labour has held meetings to listen to fishing concerns but has not released any policies yet, with the United Party set to announce its policy this month.

The Green Party say the Ministry for Primary Industries needs more funding, and should move away from single fish species management toward integrated marine ecosystem management.

Many anglers, including fishing advocacy group LegaSea, were outraged at snapper regulation changes last year that reduced recreational take but left the commercial catch virtually unchanged.

This year the depleted state of crayfish in the Hauraki Gulf is LegaSea's focus, spokesman Scott McIndoe says. Crayfish numbers have dropped by 80 per cent there.

The 2011 Hauraki Gulf State of the Environment Report showed the gulf is in decline, largely because of over fishing, with MPI's focus on single species management like predatory snapper and crayfish, skewing the gulf's entire ecosystem.

As Auckland's population swells, a regional strategy to protect coastal marine life is needed, lobby groups say.

Some doubt MPI, with its piecemeal bans on shellfish gathering and lack of protection for sea life not covered by regulations, is the best forum to deliver this.

As the fishing industry regulator, MPI sees its role as managing natural resources for economic gain. Nature is there to be used, Environmental Defence Society coastal spokeswoman Raewyn Peart says.

Local authorities are more focused on people co-existing with nature, and use discretionary decision-making within the regulatory frame work to do this, she says.

This makes the Auckland Council a better choice for managing the coast, some say.

But changes won't come easily.

Council bylaws on the coast cover people's health and safety, with MPI having control over sealife below the springs high water mark. MPI has to approve any bans council proposes.

Taking control of the intertidal areas, including shellfish beds down to the lowest low water mark or chart datum, is an option which mayor Len Brown is "reasonably comfortable with", but without legislative changes through Parliament.

This won't solve set netting and crab trap issues. Usually set at low tide, this puts nets and pots below the low water mark.

MPI is willing to work more closely with the council but also draws the line at legislative changes.

"MPI has had discussions with the Auckland Council about better integration of existing tools under the RMA and the Fisheries Act to help ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries," a spokesman for Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says.

"MPI has the lead role in ensuring sustainable usage of fisheries and there are no plans to change this. It has the expertise, science and enforcement powers to look after our fisheries."

Peart agrees.

"While there are issues with MPI management there is still a lot that can be achieved by working within the current frame work," she says. Peart has concerns the Auckland Council doesn't have the same broad science expertise to draw on as MPI, nor the deeper pockets of central government.

Green spokesman for oceans Gareth Hughes also dismisses a change.

Integrated marine ecosystem-based management, and more marine reserves, can be achieved using more Maori environmental management tools like rahui, taiapure, and mataitai, he says.

McIndoe agrees customary management mechanisms already set out in legislation are not being taken enough into account by MPI.

But northern Maori are calling for legislative changes.

"We are very protective of our coast and the sea life in it. Culturally it's very important to us," Ngati Manuhiri spokesman Mook Hohneck says.

"Current management simply hasn't kept up to speed with Auckland's growth."

Ngati Whatua o Kaipara spokesman Glenn Wilcox agrees.

Ngati Manuhiri hopes to table a draft coastal management plan for broader community input in coming months.

With around nine iwi and hapu with coastal interests in the Auckland area, and widespread discontent, Ngati Manuhiri want to lead management changes to government, Hohneck says.

Although pleased MPI took concerns he raised over Okoromai Bay cockle beds seriously, Barry Luckman of Army Bay says more needs to be done.

"I'm not asking for a marine reserve here, just a sustainably managed piece of coast."

Rodney Times