'Precedent' setting: Appeal Court rules regional councils can control fishing rules

A decision by the Appeal Court has cleared the way for a significant marine protected area off the coast of Tauranga.

It confirms that regional councils can control fishing and protect marine environments. 

Yet the controversial ruling has ramifications - not just for the Bay of Plenty, but for the entire country. 

It was Motiti Rohe Moana Trust advisor Te Atarangi Sayers and a small group of elders from Motiti Island that took on the Crown over how fishing is regulated - and won. 

"This is a significant decision for all New Zealanders. It provides the opportunity for our community to express values in the coastal marine area," said Sayers.

Fishing rules are governed by the Fisheries Act, which manages things like catch limits and stocks. 

But a tiny hapū from Motiti, along with Forest and Bird, argued regional councils had a responsibility to control fishing using the Resource Management Act, providing it was to protect biodiversity. 

The Court agreed. 

"So this is a national precedent. All regional councils are going to be able to use these new rules to protect their coastal spaces," said Forest and Bird's Megan Hubscher.

For the Bay of Plenty, that means a proposed 70-square-kilometre no-take zone already approved by the Environment Court could now become a reality. 

Some Motiti Māori want the reefs surrounding the island to be protected.

There would be a one-kilometre no-take zone around Astrolabe and its neighbouring reefs.

The proposed ban would also cover Plate Island and the area around Schooner Rocks - a key area for catching kingfish.

Recreational anglers are furious. 

"This effectively shuts it down. It's a blanket shut down to all in sundry... including the Māori people themselves," said Mount Maunganui Fishing Club's former president, Steve Penn.

The ban does not come into effect instantly.

Penn said there must be proper consultation. 

"It has to happen and if it doesn't happen, I think there's going to be quite a ruckus," he said.

Down at the wharf, some felt it could cost livelihoods. 

"That will have a major financial impact on that region," said one local.

Others agreed with the need for some controls.  

"Definitely overfished. The reduction over the years is really noticeable," said local fisherman Evan Honore.

But the Trust that managed to get this ruling does not represent all Māori with links to Motiti - and some say they don't want the fishing bans at all.


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