Waikato Regional Council is backing further restrictions on bottom fishing in the Hauraki Gulf.
Councillors considered the options being proposed by Fisheries New Zealand to establish bottom fishing access zones or ‘trawl corridors’ in the Gulf at the November Strategy and Policy Committee meeting.
The four options propose reducing areas, which vary in size, where trawling and Danish seining can continue to occur in the Gulf in order to protect large areas of marine benthic habitats and enable passive habitat restoration.
Councillors all agreed that a complete closure of the Gulf to bottom fishing would make real change. In its submission, the council supports the most restrictive option which sees nearly 90 per cent of the Gulf closed as it has the potential to provide for its recovery while still allowing for some fishing operations to occur.
“The Hauraki Gulf is one of the most intensively used coastal areas in New Zealand and this has led to an ongoing decline in its ecosystem health, with bottom fishing causing long-term degradation of benthic habitats,” said Waikato regional councillor and Strategy and Policy Committee Chair Warren Maher.
Councillors also discussed at length the Environment Select Committee’s consultation of the Hauraki Gulf/Tikapa Moana Protection Bill which proposes to establish 19 new marine protection areas – seven are in the Waikato region.
The council’s submission expresses overall support of the bill and new protection areas, but also suggests improvements to specific provisions and recommends a mechanism for enabling new protected areas to be assessed as well as the inclusion of Special Management Areas (SMAs), which will allow community and iwi input while having improved biodiversity at its core.
“Councillors shared concerns about the limiting of areas for recreational fishing, but acknowledge fisheries in the Gulf have been under pressure for some time,” said Cr Maher. “This is evident by the increasing prevalence of ecosystem changes such as kina barrens, habitat loss and localised fisheries depletion.”
Cr Maher voiced his concern that fisheries management was not considered as part of the bill as it is a key piece to increasing biodiversity.
“We want to make sure we strike the right balance between protecting our coastal and marine environments and preserving the interests and traditions of our communities,” stressed Cr Maher.