Major new protections around the Kaikoura coast have been unveiled by the Government today.
The proposals include a new marine reserve, whale and fur seal sanctuary and five customary fishing areas as well as new regulations governing recreational fishing in the area.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the measures would benefit Kaikōura's whales, dolphins, seals, albatross, rock lobster, shellfish and finfish and help to sustain the area's $134 million a year tourism industry.
They will also limit seismic surveying by the oil and gas industry.
Smith described Kaikoura as a "unique biodiversity hotspot with a range of world class marine values to be protected".
Smith said those areas were currently under pressure such as from overfishing and human contact and needed to be protected.
The package of protections were developed by iwi, recreational and commercial fishers and conservation groups, he said.
"Kaikoura is defined by its wild coastline, whales and crayfish. The debate over marine protection has been going for more than 20 years. It is fantastic that a community-led process has delivered such a comprehensive package and that this has now been endorsed by the Government," Smith said.
The new measures would see local fishers taking greater responsibility for the sustainable management of the fisheries and abut the Government play a greater role to help ensure that happened.
The fishing industry would lose about $1.1 million a year as a result of the new measures, he said.
Recreational bag limits will also be cut for some shell and finfish such as paua and tarakihi and the size limit for blue cod increased by 3cm.
The Kaikōura Marine Management Bill will be introduced to Parliament this week before it goes through a committee process when the public can have its say.
Smith said they hoped to pass the bill this year and have the protections and management tools in place by 2015.
The Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries have been considering the final proposal since 2012.
Labour's Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson said the Government had shown it was "out of touch" with key conservation issues in New Zealand.
Today's announcement was National "picking low hanging fruit for a photo op rather than tackling the hard issues".
She cited the controversy over Hawkes Bay's Tukutuki Dam proposal and Smith's "shamefully weak" response to protecting the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.
The Government last year extended a set net ban to protect the Maui's dolphin, of which there are as few as 55 left, but critics said this was not enough to stave off extinction.
"As one petitioner said to the Local Government and Environment Committee this week, the solutions are easily available for Government to save the dolphins and secure a strong and sustainable fishing industry.
"But even that's too hard for National. Instead, they have made a series of announcements solely designed to make them look good but which have little impact on the declining state of our marine environment."
Whale Watch Kaikoura welcomed the announcement.
Chief operating officer Kauahi Ngapora said it demonstrated a commitment to protecting an environment that had reinvigorated the Kaikoura community.
"We are passionate about protecting and nurturing what is an essential cultural, spiritual and economic taonga for the people of Kaikoura and New Zealand," Ngapora said.
"The Government, through this announcement, has shown it is committed to protecting this national treasure also."
The introduction of the new conservation measures was a victory for many in the local community who had worked together to develop ways to protect the coastline and marine life of the Kaikoura coast.
"Te Korowai brought together a range of stakeholders to develop viable solutions that put sustainability and the well-being of this cherished region, and our coastline and ocean, at the heart of decision-making," he said.
Ngapora said he and Whale Watch Kaikoura had remained strong critics of deep sea oil exploration and seismic testing off the Kaikoura shoreline.
Forest & Bird, which helped develop the Te Korowai project, welcomed the news but said the Government's efforts to entice the deep sea oil industry to New Zealand diminished the value of any work to protect marine habitats.
Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Karen Baird said the Te Korowai project had involved nine years of hard work from the Kaikoura community and "naturally we see this announcement as a positive step".
"But it is highly contradictory that the government is positioning itself in this election year as the saviour of our marine environment, when it is effectively subsidising the dangerous, climate-changing deep sea oil drilling industry to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year," she said.
New Zealand was better off capitalising on its clean, green image and renewable energy potential given the known and potential environmental costs of fossil fuel extraction, she said.
The amount of ocean set aside for conservation was dwarfed by that dedicated to oil and gas exploration, she said, while the proposals were once again confined to New Zealand's territorial sea.
"All the current marine reserves are inside the 12 nautical mile territorial limit. This leaves none of our deep water and open ocean ecosystems protected in any way. They are no less important to our natural heritage," she said.
"New Zealand needs a marine reserves network that protects a representative range of all the species and habitats found in and on our waters. The government says it wants New Zealand to be a leader in ocean management, but this pitiful level of protection will just not cut it."
The new marine protection measures are:
-The Hikurangi marine reserve
A total of 10,416 hectares focused on the very deep waters of the canyon and connects with the land for about two kilometres just north of Goose Bay and extends out to 23.4 kilometres. No mining, fishing or harvesting of any kind would be allowed in the area. This new reserve is larger and deeper than any existing marine reserve on New Zealand's three main islands.
-The Kaikoura whale sanctuary
This 4686-square kilometre sanctuary extends 45 kilometres north and south of the Kaikōura peninsula and 56 kilometres out to sea. It protects the sperm, humpback, southern right, blue, killer and other whales that frequent the area and prohibits high-level seismic survey work.
-The Ohau point New Zealand fur seal sanctuary
Extends 700 metres along the coastal side of State Highway 1 out about 50 metres to the low water spring mark, covering an approximate area of four hectares. This area is the most significant breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals on the country's main islands. Public access will be restricted to the viewing platforms to give the estimated 3000 seals in the area respite from human interference.
-The Mangamaunu Mussel Rock and Oaro maitaitai reserves
Three small maitaitai reserves are to be established at Mangamaunu, Mussel Rock and Orou in which commercial fishing is prohibited and which protect customary fishing beds. Two larger taiāpure reserves, or locally managed recreational fishing areas, are to be established on the Kaikōura Peninsula and Oaro/Haumuri area.
-New recreational fishing regulations
Recreational catch and size limits are to be tightened within the Te Korowai area due to concern about unsustainable pressure on fishing stocks. Tighter catch limits will apply to blue cod, rig, paua, crayfish, cockles, karengo and bladder kelp.
- The Marlborough Express
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