A landmark court ruling which allows councils to place restrictions on fishing is being challenged by the Government.

The Environment Court ruled in December that councils were able to impose fishing rules in their regions for the purpose of protecting native species. It was hailed at the time as a "very important" decision by environmental group Forest and Bird, who said it could be applied by councils across the country.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) confirmed today that Crown law had appealed the court's decision this week, but would not comment further.

"The case is now before the High Court therefore we cannot comment."

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Forest and Bird and the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust took the matter to the Environment Court in a bid to prevent fishing around Astrolabe Reef, where the ecosystem had suffered after being struck by the container vessel MV Rena in 2011 - New Zealand's worst environmental disaster at sea.

The reef's ecosystem has since begun recovering, but the applicants wanted limits on fishing to allow marine life to return to pre-shipwreck levels. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council said it did not have power to prevent fishing around the reef, but the Environment Court ruled that it did.

Green Party environment spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the ministry itself should be protecting the reef and other maritime areas. Instead, it was blocking local communities from protecting their own backyards, she said.

"If MPI won't use its powers to protect the Otaiti (Astrolabe) Reef or other significant marine areas from fishing pressure then hapu, iwi and community organisations should be able to ask their regional councils to use the RMA and regional coastal plans for help.

"Now having failed the local community, MPI wants to block off that option too."

Forest and Bird spokesman Geoff Keey accused the Government of "road-blocking" councils from protecting the marine environment.

"The Environment Court offered our oceans some hope last year, by confirming that regional councils can regulate fishing and marine activity to protect New Zealand's underwater ecosystems," Mr Keey said.

"Finally someone could do the crucial job that central government has been ineffective in doing themselves."​