Editorial: Hauraki Gulf body a case of too many cooks

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Proliferation of talking-shops and number of people involved dismaying for those who care about marine park's future

Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade
Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade

Auckland and other communities living within easy reach of the Hauraki Gulf probably give too little thought to how the water is kept clean, the island sanctuaries pest-free and fish abundant.

Even those who take these things for granted will be dismayed at reports this week of dissension over the way the gulf should be governed.

The gulf and its islands are constituted a marine park with a statutory overseeing body, the Hauraki Gulf Forum consisting of 21 people, 15 of them from elected councils of Auckland, Waikato, Hauraki Plains and Coromandel.

Last year, the new Auckland Council and the Waikato Regional Council joined forces to draw up a marine spatial plan that would provide for the varying uses of the gulf - economic, recreational and ecological - and protect outstanding landscape.

This week, the forum's deputy leader, Auckland Council member Christine Fletcher, quit in disgust at proposals to form a new steering group for the spatial plan.

The steering group is to consist of equal numbers of iwi and public representatives.

Mrs Fletcher said the exercise had been "hijacked by other agendas around Treaty settlements" that would not help to resolve conflicts of use.

Many might be no less dismayed at the proliferation of talk-shops and the numbers involved.

Besides the forum (21) and the proposed steering group (52) there is a stakeholder forum of 200 representatives, plus an expert advisory group and a project team. It sounds like too many busy bodies with not enough to do.

Duplication of responsibilities can result in too little being done rather than too much.

Each body is inclined to imagine another is doing the work they all agree needs to be done.

The gulf is said to be suffering from farm run-off, particularly in the rivers flowing to the Firth of Thames, where the habitats of migratory birds and fish spawning have also been damaged by sedimentation and the spread of mangroves.

Urban stormwater is an obvious pollutant too.

Auckland still needs to spend $10 billion to bring its drains up to the desired standard and serve projected population growth.

That 50-year programme was one of the casualties of the Auckland Council's budget-trimming effort last year, spending $40 million less than the previous councils' combined outlay.

The gulf attracts more recreational use than any other area of sea around New Zealand.

It is also an economic gold mine. An assessment of its economic value, done for the forum, has found it provides tourism with $937 million in a year, creating 15,742 full-time jobs. But if conflicts of use are to be resolved on economic value, business might often have to give way to pleasure.

Recreational marine activities provided $550 million and 5781 jobs - more than the port's $257 million (2027 jobs) and the cruise industry's $69 million (928 jobs) combined. Recreational fishing brought in $81 million to commercial fishing's $41 million and creates as many jobs (2010 in each case).

Aquaculture, however, beats them both for value, with earnings reaping $98.6 million from the gulf in 2009-10.

The forum seems to be doing the research and keeping all interest groups informed and discussing their conflicts.

There seems no need for a new body to set about a similar exercise, particularly since it is a creature of just one side of the gulf.

Too many cooks could spoil this broth.

- NZ Herald

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