The culturally and ecologically significant marine area on Auckland’s doorstep has been in decline for years, but the government has a new strategy to restore it to health.
It’s finally happened. After four years of waiting, the much-anticipated plan for the future of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Tīkapa Moana/Te Moananui-ā-Toi (the gulf) was announced this week. Over the next three years, the government will create 18 new marine protected areas, confine bottom trawling to established “corridors” and freeze the footprint of commercial scallop dredging in existing areas, as well as ban recreational scallop dredging altogether.
The 144-page proposal also includes strategies to develop the aquaculture industry, better manage marine biosecurity and endangered species, improve governance arrangements in the gulf, and work with mana whenua and local communities to establish Ahu Moana pilots (mana whenua and community co-managed areas).
Minister for fisheries and oceans David Parker believes this plan will build on the “good work already being done to restore the health of the gulf”.
“We are also taking the long view, recognising that sustained action is necessary to ensure that the gulf and its economic, environmental, cultural and social benefits can continue to be enjoyed.”
Acting conservation minister Ayesha Verrall, who released the report along with Parker, emphasised that this package “works for all”.
“We’ll be seeking further input from mana whenua and engaging with key stakeholders to make sure it’s done right.”
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure the vision of a revitalised gulf comes to fruition, but by working together we can achieve it.”
The government’s strategy comes as a response to the 180 recommendations made by the 2017 Sea Change Marine Spatial Plan, which itself was another four years in the making. The14-person stakeholder group was formed in 2013 in response to the substantial decline in the gulf’s health, and now in 2021 we have a path forward.
So, what does everyone make of it?
For most conservation groups, the government’s strategy represents a step in the right direction.
“It’s encouraging to see this government finally turning the tide on ocean protection, both with the anti-dumping rule last week and now this to help the gulf thrive again,” Jessica Desmond from Greenpeace Aotearoa commented.
“We know that bottom trawling is hugely damaging to ocean health and biodiversity. It’s great to see that this practice will be restricted in more areas of the gulf to allow marine life to recover.”
Livia Esterhazy from WWF NZ was equally positive, but also believes that more radical change will be needed in the future.
“While we applaud this crucial step forward, more action is needed. For Tīkapa Moana to recover and thrive, our government and other key stakeholders must work to protect at least 30% of the gulf in true partnership with tangata whenua.”
Nicola MacDonald, Hauraki Gulf Forum co-chair tangata whenua, agrees, remarking that “this is an important first step toward the forum’s ambition for at least 30% marine protection to restore the mauri of Te Moananui-ā-Toi, Tīkapa Moana”.
However, a plan like this can never be met without some controversy, and the dissenting voices have so far come from one sizeable group: recreational anglers. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is one of the most popular playgrounds for everyday fishers, divers and boaties, and is also a major source of kaimoana for coastal communities in the area – but some of their hotspots are about to become off-limits.
Of the 18 proposed marine protected areas, 11 are what have been called “high protection areas”. The exact restrictions in these areas are yet to be confirmed, but the Sea Change Plan Type 1 protected areas they correspond to proposed a complete ban on fishing. To many anglers’ dismay, the protection areas are around some of the most popular and accessible fishing destinations in the gulf, including Tiritiri Matangi, Kawau Bay, Rangitoto, Motutapu and the Aldermen Islands.
According to LegaSea spokesperson Sam Woolford, recreational fishers are willing to make sacrifices to see the gulf restored to health, but there are a few elements of this plan that are concerning.
“I thought it was quite shocking that the minister had the tenacity to give a free pass to the commercial industry for scallop fishing but ban recreational dredging. They’re talking about a freeze on commercial dredging – but that existing footprint is the Coromandel area. The government has not listened to the local communities.”
Many recreational fishers, on the other hand, have already voluntarily given up recreational dredging, and popular retailers Hunting & Fishing and Burnsco haven’t sold recreational dredges for years.
For Sam, the same logic is true of the “trawl corridors”.
“If we’ve established that bottom trawling is not OK, then how is it acceptable to move the current area to fixed corridors without reducing the quota? These trawl corridors will never recover. Where are the conversations around the stock limits and quota limits? They’re still purse seining and there’s no reduction in quota.”
These sentiments are shared in part by the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s co-chair Pippa Coom.
“The forum’s position is clear: bottom-impact fishing methods like dredging and trawling should be removed from the entire marine park.”
“It is important that the government’s Sea Change response creates a mechanism by which existing proposals can be upgraded, and new proposals considered.”
Thankfully, it does appear that this will be the case. The plan is to be implemented over the next three years, and there will be opportunity for the public to submit feedback on the proposals.
The package in a nutshell
- The creation of 18 new marine protection areas and a framework to support the active restoration of some of the most biodiverse regions in the gulf. The 18 new protected areas will increase marine protection in the gulf almost threefold.
- A Fisheries Plan with a range of changes to fishing practices and catch settings, including restricting trawl fishing to within carefully selected “corridors”.
- Better monitoring to improve our understanding of the marine environment and track progress over time.
- An expanded programme of protected species management.
- Working together with mana whenua and local communities on local area coastal management.
- Promoting a prosperous, sustainable aquaculture industry.