A Bay of Plenty com­mu­nity wants to set up a marine re­serve at the site of the wreck of the Rena. But, An­drea Vance writes, the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight the bid all the way to the Supreme Court has now set up a real-life David and Goliath bat­tle

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

A tiny hapu is fac­ing down the Gov­ern­ment and fish­ing in­dus­try giants in a bid to set up a marine re­serve.

The Motiti Rohe Moana Trust has al­ready won ‘‘ground­break­ing’’ rul­ings in the En­vi­ron­ment and High Courts that gave lo­cal coun­cils pow­ers to reg­u­late fish­ing to pro­tect na­tive species – but now the Gov­ern­ment is threat­en­ing to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Motiti is­lan­ders and lo­cals from the nearby Bay of Plenty coastal com­mu­ni­ties have bat­tled to pro­tect the marine life on their doorstep since the Rena con­tainer ship foundered on the nearby As­tro­labe reef in 2011, spilling 350 tonnes of oil and count­less fish and up to 20,000 seabirds.

Yes­ter­day, Fish­eries Min­is­ter Stu­art Nash was forced to de­fend a move that would see the hapu tied up in lit­i­ga­tion for years. He said a fi­nal de­ci­sion on the ap­peal will be made next month.

He sup­ported the ap­peal be­cause the law needed to be clar­i­fied.

Nash and the Trust’s Te Atarangi Say­ers went head-to­head on a panel at yes­ter­day’s For­est and Bird’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Welling­ton.

Say­ers ex­plained the court rul­ing al­lows coun­cils to use the Re­source Man­age­ment Act to pro­tect the marine en­vi­ron­ment. Pre­vi­ously, that has only been ap­plied to land.

‘‘The marine en­vi­ron­ment is in cri­sis and needs help from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in re­plen­ish­ing and restor­ing the in­tegrity of it. I feel like if we don’t act now, with the court de­ci­sions we have al­ready had, we are go­ing to out our­selves in a more pre­car­i­ous state.’’

He agreed ther David ver­sus Goliath bat­tle was an un­fair fight but said: ‘‘Life has chal­lenges and if this chal­lenge is sup­posed to be, then it will be.’’

Nash said the court de­ci­sion marked a ‘‘fun­da­men­tal change’’ in how fish­eries were man­aged, and the leg­is­la­tion needed to be clar­i­fied.

‘‘There are sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions. I think this is an is­sue that we need to un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of and I would have no prob­lems see­ing this go all the way to the Supreme Court.’’

He told Sun­day News: ‘‘It comes to the pri­macy of the RMAover Fish­eries leg­is­la­tion, in terms of man­ag­ing our marine ar­eas. I’m not say­ing one is more im­por­tant than the other, but what I do think is we need to get this right.’’

Nash said he, Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter Eu­ge­nie Sage and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter David Parker will all give ad­vice to Solic­i­tor-Gen­eral Una Jagose, who will make the fi­nal de­ci­sion. Nash said he would ac­cept her de­ci­sion, whichever way it goes.

Sage re­fused to be drawn for com­ment . In Op­po­si­tion, she crit­i­cised the for­mer Na­tional Gov­ern­ment for chal­leng­ing the orig­i­nal court de­ci­sion.

The hapu orig­i­nally de­cided to act in the wake of the Rena dis­as­ter.

Au­thor­i­ties had placed an ex­clu­sion zone around the wreck for al­low for sal­vage – and with lit­tle to dis­turb the wa­ters, marine life flour­ished. In 2016, the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust asked MPI to ex­tend that pro­tec­tion with a two-year tem­po­rary clo­sure of the reef to all fish­ing. MPI re­fused and when the ves­sels ar­rived the sanc­tu­ary was dec­i­mated.

Un­de­terred, Motiti Rohe Moana Trust asked the Bay of Plenty Re­gional Coun­cil to in­ter­vene, ar­gu­ing it had pow­ers un­der the Re­source Man­age­ment Act to pro­tect the reef with a rahui. The coun­cil didn’t agree and so the Trust – along­side For­est and Bird – suc­cess­fully took a case to the En­vi­ron­ment Court.

Their fight wasn’t over – The Crown and Marl­bor­ough Re­gional Coun­cil ap­pealed to the high court. Fol­low­ing a High Court ju­di­cial rul­ing last year, the En­vi­ron­ment Court or­dered the Bay of Plenty Coun­cil to be­gin the process of pro­tect­ing the reef, and two other ar­eas, from the im­pact of fish­ing.

Te Ohu Kaimoana, which speaks on be­half of com­mer­cial quota own­ers, in­di­cated in Jan­uary that it would chal­lenge any threat to ac­cess the wa­ters. ¯ A

‘ If we don’t act now we are go­ing to out our­selves in a more pre­car­i­ous state’ TE ATARANGI SAY­ERS

Fish­eries Min­is­ter Stu­art Nash and the Trust’s Te Atarangi Say­ers, right, went head-to-head over the Motiti Is­land re­serve at yes­ter­day’s For­est and Bird’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Welling­ton.

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