Northland marinas are advising boaties not to pay a biosecurity fee while they are disputing the new levy.

The Kerikeri Cruising Club marina at Dove's Bay - along with marinas at Opua, Riverside Drive, Tutukaka, Whangarei and Whangaroa - is advising berth and mooring holders not to pay the Northland Regional Council's $79.50 biosecurity charge. The six marinas have also chipped in for a legal opinion from an Auckland law firm.

The issue is likely to be raised when marina representatives hold their regular meeting with the regional council later this month.

Kerikeri Cruising Club commodore Doug France said the marinas believed boaties couldn't be compelled to pay the fee while it was being challenged so members were being advised to withhold payment for now. The marinas had no issue with the rest of the $261.50 annual mooring charge.

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Mr France said it came down to fairness. With other biosecurity threats - such as the plant fungus myrtle rust or the cow disease mycoplasma, both recently in the news - central government bore the responsibility of keeping pests out and the costs of eradicating them if they got in.

When it came to marine threats such as Mediterranean fanworm, however, it seemed the costs were lumped on to ratepayers through the regional councils, and now boaties.

Also, the new biosecurity fee would be paid mostly by boaties in areas free of the worm while boaties in Auckland, where the pest was rife and no attempt had been made to eradicate it, didn't pay a cent.

Kerikeri Cruising Club spokeswoman Gill Durham said the council should adopt the system used in Fiordland where all boats, local or visiting, had to obtain a 'clean vessel pass'. That would spread the cost across all boaties.

Under the current system the estimated 2000-4000 boats visiting Northland each year didn't contribute to biosecurity costs. Requiring boaties to obtain a pass was also a chance to educate them about Northland's biosecurity rules, she said.

Boaties at Whangarei Marina are not billed directly for regional council charges but the costs are taken into account when berth rentals are set. Manager Brian Caulton said the biosecurity fee would not be passed on to boaties, or paid by the marina, while it was in dispute.

Regional council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said the council had spent years lobbying the government to take a bigger role in marine biosecurity. Initially MPI had seen fanworm as a lost cause but it had recently started contributing to the fight, including when the pest was detected at Tutukaka.

In the meantime the council could not sit back and do nothing.

Mr Nicolson said the 'clean vessel pass' system, as used in Fiordland, had been considered during the consultation process. However, the clean hulls programme, as adopted by the council, was more likely to be successful in Northland, he said.

Fiordland had just 300 vessels visiting each year, all of which were inspected. Northland, on the other hand, had up to 4000, with the council aiming to inpsect 60 per cent of them.

Council chairman Bill Shepherd a significant number of Auckland boaties owned berths or moorings in Northland, so they would in fact be contributing to biosecurity costs.

The highly invasive Mediterranean fanworm can smother shellfish beds and marine structures. It could also wipe out the oyster industry.

It is an issue in Auckland and is the subject of a costly eradication programme at Marsden Cove. It is present at other sites around Whangarei Harbour such as Parua Bay, and has been detected, but eliminated, at Tutukaka and Whangaroa.

Under the regional council plan about 4000 mooring and marina berth holders plus boatshed owners will pay a biosecurity fee of $79.50 with large commercial facilities paying $3737.50. The bills were sent out last week with the roughly $300,000 raised each year covering about two-thirds of the cost of inspections, education, enforcement and other marine biosecurity activities. The remaining third will come from the general rates take.

Marsden Cove Marina, which is half-owned by the regional council, is not taking part in the campaign.