The Government must now navigate possible Maori resistance to any move to cut fishing quotas in the Hauraki Gulf.
The announcement yesterday that the Government will go ahead with a Ministerial Advisory Group to consider a sweeping set of proposals to restore fish stocks in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf was greeted with relief by environmentalists.
But POLITIK understands it got an equally unenthusiastic reception from Maori fishing interests who were backed by NZ First.
The Advisory Group is to consider a set of proposals encapsulated under the title of “Sea Change Plan” which was actually drawn up under the National Government.
The plan was described yesterday by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister, Stuart Nash, as “an aspirational document which includes 181 proposals developed over four years by a Stakeholder Working Group with representatives from mana whenua, recreational and commercial fishing, farming, aquaculture, infrastructure, and environmentalists.”
That begs the question as to if so much consultation has already taken place why it is necessary to set up another advisory group.
“This government is serious about moving forward,” said Nash.
“Our priority now is to engage with participants about how best to make progress.
“The establishment of the Ministerial Advisory Committee will include representatives from multiple groups and is a key first step in that engagement process.”
To start with the Department of Conservation will start consulting and then based on the outcome of those talks, the Ministers will appoint members of the advisory group.
That process gives a hint as to how fraught with danger the whole process now is.
That is because Maori fishing interests are suspicious of the motivations behind the proposal.
They base those suspicions on the recommendations already made in the Sea Change document.
It says: The Sea Change Tai Timu Tai Pari marine spatial plan suggests tackling the gulf’s issues head-on by:
- eventually banning certain commercial fishing methods and reviewing the way fish stocks are managed
- creating 13 new marine protected areas and extending two existing ones to better protect the marine environment and support fish and kaimoana stocks
- creating new local “Ahu Moana” marine areas, to provide for joint mana whenua and community management of local marine areas to support sustainable use of the gulf.”
It is the possibility of banning some fishing methods and reviewing the fisheries stock management which has rung alarm bells within Maoridom.
POLITIK understands that Ngai Tahu elder, Sir Tipene O’Reagen, told Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash at an industry function on Wednesday that any changes to Maori quota would see Maori go to court.
Nash told POLITIK last night there were no propsoals to change the system.
But that may miss O’Regan’s point. Any reduction in the quantity of fish caught by Maori fishers would be considered a backward step.
Nash said any reductions would be achieved “in consultation with key stakeholders and at some point, under an eco system based fisheries management regime.”
“I never said it was going to be easy,” he added.
But if Maori are sceptical about the advisory group, environmentalists are pleased.
There was a hint of the tension behind the proposal in the reaction yesterday from the Environmental Defence Society who have been very active lobbying for a review of fishing in the Gulf.
Last year they called for a Commission of Inquiry into Fisheries Management specifically citing the situation in the Hauraki Gulf where they said more than 70% of the finfish harvest was from stocks of unknown status.
Their statement yesterday was headed “Sea Change Tai Timu Tai Pari back on track.”
“This is excellent news”, said EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart.
“It’s great to see the government now showing leadership in progressing implementation of the plan which aims at restoration of the badly diminished Hauraki Gulf.
ironically NZ First has also called for a Commission of Inquiry into the fishing quota system.
But its perspective was very different to that of the EDS.
“Some of the issues that have plagued the commercial fishing industry in particular in recent years can be attributed directly to unintended consequences created by the Quota Management System itself,” their manifesto said.
And the manifesto said New Zealand commercial fishers should not be unfairly penalised for outcomes that are beyond their control.
This has all the hallmarks of a difficult industry negotiation overlaid with delicate coalition politics on top of it.
As Nash said – it won’t be easy.