The battle lines are drawn, not in the sand, but just off the sandy beaches amongst arguably New Zealand's most beautiful and certainly most heavily used marine playground - Northland.
In a nutshell, private concerns want the use of public land, or in this case water, to establish aquaculture projects such as oyster farms, mussel farms, and finfish cages. They argue that Northland's resources are under-utilized, and such development will create jobs and therefore a sustainable economy for Northland to the benefit of the nation.
Opponents argue that these areas are the traditional playgrounds for a substantial number of recreational boaters, fisherman, and divers, represent unique and often pristine environments that warrant special protection, and, in any event, because of their unspoiled beauty already provide jobs via the tourism sector- jobs that would be put at risk with the despoilment of the environment.
There is no question where Doug Smeal of Northland Yachting Association stands on this. With the help of Auckland Yachting and Boating Association and Yachting New Zealand, he has campaigned tirelessly for the protection of strategic anchorages, unimpeded connecting access to those anchorages, and the preservation of traditionally acknowledged areas of iconic beauty.
It has been an uphill fight, against sophisticated and well-funded opponents. Nevertheless, it is a fight he and his kindred spirit appear to be winning, in a roundabout way.
Their original and overriding concern regarded procedure. Ten years ago, after a "gold rush" period of relatively unfettered marine development, the Government imposed a national moratorium on new projects in order to rationalise the process of application and approval and to determine areas appropriate for development.
However, a recent law change has taken what the incumbent government deems a ponderous procedural burden off applicants. This means that all a private corporation has to acquire is Resource Consent from the Regional Council to proceed with any number or types of projects.
This left Smeal and associates exposed to a plethora of applications that they would have to oppose on an individual basis, dividing their attention and limited financial resources, something akin to fighting multiple brush fires.
They realised that they needed some form of comprehensive policy that precluded these individual battles. Enter the idea of pre-emptive "No Go Zones" that would permanently place off limits any application for development in designated areas. With a fighting fund collected from individual yacht clubs and a levy from the New Zealand Yachting Association, they have drawn up and campaigned for a sophisticated plan that, while conceding development in some areas, essentially protects the areas that they deemed were of, as Smeal puts it, "Lie down and die for importance." (Read here Bay Of Islands and adjacent anchorages, Whangaroa Harbor, and Whangarei Heads.)
"But there were other areas we will willing to negotiate over," he says. And negotiate they did, with the exhaustive give and take required to reach a consensus between a tripartite of boating rights activists, private-for- profit concerns, and Government agencies.
The pending results, although not perfect, might be considered a win/win/win situation. Other than three areas still contested that will be decided in the environmental courts, Northland Yachting has been able to establish large tracts of designated coastal areas that will not be eligible for applications. Yet, in all other areas the industry will enjoy a streamlined process of application and approval, while the Regional Council will still maintain control of approval, policy and policing.
For the record, one of the areas still under contention is Peach Cove, a scenic part of the Whangarei Heads. This is my back yard - literally. You will be able to recognise me - I'll be the guy with the largest and loudest placard in the protest line fighting to protect this beautiful site from any and all commercial encroachment. But in fairness, I would like to commend the aquaculture industry representatives for, by all accounts, negotiating honestly, and in good faith regarding their openly declared interests.
But especially, I would like to congratulate and thank Doug Smeal and the many people from these boating organisations who answered the clarion call. One would hope that this pending settlement might act as a model for other areas of the country, for it allows business to do business in a timely and predictable fashion, as is their legitimate need. But, it underpins that with a basic philosophy that protects the most beautiful of our waterways and our citizen's access to them.
With an ever-increasing population and demand to grow our economy, certainly this will not be the last time the interests and rights of recreational boaters will come under fire. The most efficient way to stay informed and contribute to these worthy causes is to join your local yacht club. All registered NZ yacht clubs have the mechanisms in place to funnel portions of their annual fees and extra donations directly to the people on the front line. And when you meet guys like Doug Smeal, you know that you will be well represented.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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