Bay whitebaiters fight to keep huts
Upset Fiordland whitebaiters are battling the Department of Conservation to keep their private huts so they can pass them onto their families.
There are nine private huts used by whitebaiters on conservation land in Big Bay, on the border of the Southland and Westland districts.
All have department-approved leased concessions to own, occupy and maintain a private hut and licence on the land immediately surrounding the hut.
But draft plans in the Southland Conservation Management Strategy phase out private accommodation on conservation land.
Under the draft proposal, if the owner of a hut dies or the hut is destroyed it will be removed by DOC - and the Big Bay hut owners say that is unfair.
The group of Big Bay hut owners, represented by prominent constitutional lawyer Mai Chen, voiced their concerns to a hearing panel in Invercargill yesterday.
Longtime Big Bay whitebaiter and hut owner Cliff King said if the draft Conservation Management Strategy was approved it would not be possible to transfer the hut to a family member.
"When I applied for my concession I tried to apply as a trust with my son and grandson but DOC said there could only be one applicant," he said.
"This means if I die I can't leave the hut for the next generation of my family."
Thornbury resident and Big Bay hut owner Andrew Hall said he and the other hut owners had received a 15-year concession for their huts in December.
But less than a year later he was told by authorities that if he died or his hut was destroyed it could not be passed on to his family or rebuilt and the hut would be removed.
Hut owners paid $2700 a year in rates and had always complied with DOC regulations, he said.
"We just want to be whitebaiting, not fighting a legal battle," he said.
The remote huts, which were accessed by air, were used to store gear and live in during the whitebaiting season, he said.
Ms Chen told the panel yesterday that because the Government decided to grant the whitebaiters 15-year concessions 10 months ago they should be allowed to keep those concessions for the full 15 years.
"If Cliff, who I'm sure will live a long life, does happen to die, the concession should be allowed to be passed on to his family," she said.
The Conservation Management Strategy was inconsistent with the Resource Management Act and had not taken into account the existing consents, she said.
The Big Bay whitebaiters had a proven track record of being guardians of the Big Bay area and helped DOC by controlling pests and weeds, she said.
An exception for Big Bay should be made, she said.
"They just want to continue what they are doing and are happy to work with DOC to protect an area they love."
CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT AT A GLANCE
Submissions on the draft Southland Conservation Management Strategy closed on September 13 with 400 submissions received.
A hearing for submissions took place in Invercargill yesterday and will continue in Queenstown today and tomorrow before returning to Invercargill on Thursday.
A second round of hearings is scheduled for Te Anau and Invercargill next month.
Following the hearings, recommendations will be made regarding each submission point raised and changes made to the Conservation Management Strategy.
If the Southland Conservation Board supports the proposed changes the Conservation Management Strategy will then be forwarded to the New Zealand Conservation Authority for approval.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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