David Seymour attacks Government's plan to protect Hauraki Gulf

ACT leader David Seymour has scathing words for the Government's plan to protect the Hauraki Gulf, accusing it of fostering race-based division.

On Tuesday, Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker and the Acting Minister of Conservation Ayesha Verrall released the Government's restoration strategy.

Titled 'Revitalising the Gulf - Government action on the Sea Change Plan', it includes restrictions on trawl fishing, 18 new protection areas, and an expanded programme of protected species management.

It also proposes greater involvement with mana whenua on local coastal management, and revamping the Gulf's management to include co-governance with iwi.

But Seymour warns the plan shouldn't be used to "smuggle in a co-governance agenda".

Ahu Moana

The strategy acknowledges that mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge) held by mana whenua can help in caring for and conserving the gulf. It proposes 'Ahu Moana' pilot projects - where local communities and mana whenua can work together on coastal management.

"These projects will follow mana whenua and local communities as they work together to deliver their shared fisheries and/or conservation objectives in their nearshore coastal areas," the plan states.

"Mana whenua and local community groups leading the pilot projects will consider what governance arrangements (if any) and what actions are needed to deliver their shared goals."

Gulf co-governance

Governance in the Gulf is currently overseen by the Hauraki Gulf Forum.

The Government's strategy says the Forum, as it currently exists, is unlikely to be able to address environmental challenges and resolve issues of governance arrangements.

And it refers to previous reviews which called for "stronger emphasis on co-governance and greater representation of mana whenua".

While the strategy says a full review isn't within its scope, it suggests the future governance entity needs greater statutory authority and an increased emphasis on co-governance.

"Co-governance improves decision-making because it brings a broad range of knowledge, values, traditions and experiences to the governance table," it notes.

"It places an emphasis on kaitiakitanga and uses intergenerational timeframes for decision-making, encouraging longer-term thinking and potentially better environmental outcomes."

And it disputes arguments from co-governance critics who argue it could limit public influence in decision-making.

"Entities established through Treaty settlements generally include local authority representation and, therefore, public input," it says.

'Fish don't do race'

But these points have come under fire from Seymour, who calls co-governance "unnecessary" and "divisive".

"Revitalising the Gulf is the latest example of the Government's drive to give power to people based on who their grandparents were through co-governance," he says.

"A fishing reserve is not a cultural construct, it's just a place where fishing is banned to give fish a chance. There is no need for special Māori knowledge. We can all see that if you stop catching fish in certain areas there will be more of them.

"Not only is co-management unnecessary, it is divisive. It can only mean that some people will get a greater say, and perhaps greater rights according to who their grandparents were."

While the strategy will set up 18 new marine protection areas, 11 of these - the new high protection areas - will include a provision for customary practices.

But Seymour says fish "don't do race" and protection should be based on good science to "maximise fishing opportunities for all New Zealanders".

"There is no doubt there will be a rahui here and a customary catch there, meaning reserves are not created equal for all people," he adds.

"ACT supports marine reserves, but allowing some Māori to customary take in a fishing reserve makes the policy more about race than fishing."