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
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.