Environment Court confirms no-take fishing areas in Northland

14 Sep 2023, 12:02 PM

New no-take fishing areas have been formally adopted by Northland Regional Council following an Environment Court decision that confirmed all fishing – including recreational – is no longer permitted from Maunganui Bay (Deep Water Cove) to Oporua (Oke Bay) in the Bay of Islands as well as around the Mimiwhangata peninsula.

The move is expected to provide some much-needed protection to some important areas on Northland’s coast.

In November last year the court released an interim decision in which it upheld appeals against Northland Regional Council’s lack of fishing prohibitions within its Proposed Regional Plan.

The court released its final decision on 11 May 2023, which was formally adopted into council’s Regional Plan on 31 July 2023.

The decision paves the way for the fishing ban for the purposes of protecting marine areas that have significant ecological and cultural value.

It also means commercial bulk harvesting of fish (specific seining and trawling methods) is prohibited in a new area around Rakaumangamanga (Cape Brett) to a depth of approximately 100 metres. The area starts immediately north of Maunganui Bay, passes around Rakaumangamanga and south of Whangamumu Harbour, to end just north of Te Akau (Elliott Bay). This closure will provide protection for a small area in which benthic habitats and schooling fish will be protected from damaging methods of fishing.

Exceptions to the no-take rules include kina harvest and activities mostly associated with restoration, research and tikanga such as customary fishing.

Northland Regional Council’s Proposed Regional Plan for Northland was publicly notified in September 2017 and did not include fishing controls.

Local hapū Te Uri O Hikihiki proposed that important areas should be protected from fishing, purse seining and bottom trawling under the Plan. Ngati Kuta also proposed no fishing in specific areas, so they could once again teem with life.

Along with the council, many supporting parties, including the Minister of Conservation, environmental groups, and other hapū, presented evidence which showed a serious decline in the health of these marine ecosystems associated with the impacts of these fishing methods. This included widespread loss of kelp forest and kina barren expansion which was related to low snapper and crayfish populations and small individual size.

The Environment Court process meant public consultation on the no-take rules was not possible, but NRC supported the court’s decision on the basis that significant ecological values were being negatively impacted by fishing in the areas, and because it reflected the concerns of local hapū Te Uri O Hikihiki and Ngati Kuta ki Te Rawhiti.

Council chair Tui Shortland says the council is continuing to work with iwi and hapū in the implementation areas.

“’We are working in partnership with local tangata whenua and communities around how the new rules will be effectively implemented. We’ve already made a public commitment to having that kōrero and establishing those relationships.”

The rule changes have significant implications for council as the regulation of recreational or commercial fishing locations is not a function council has undertaken previously.

Chair Shortland says in the wake of the court’s latest ruling, the council would be working with tangata whenua and all stakeholders to make sure the new rules are well understood, communicated and respected, so the moana can once again thrive in the protected areas.

She says the council’s initial focus would be education and advocacy around the reasons why the no take areas have been set up.

However, compliance measures available under the Resource Management Act ranged from fines of several hundred dollars for breaking rules or not providing information to a warranted enforcement officer through to imprisonment for up to two years or a fine up to $300,000 for an individual, or $600,000 for an organisation.

For further details on the new fishing regulation, head to www.nrc.govt.nz/marineareas