A new rule protecting biodiversity off the coast of Motiti Island came into effect this week.
From Wednesday it became prohibited to anchor on, or take any marine life from three reefs making up the new Motiti Protection Area.
"It's a single rule and what it says is that the damage or destruction of any plants or animals is prohibited," Sarah Omundsen, general manager, regulatory compliance at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council said.
"It's a really wide-reaching rule. Ultimately it means you can't take any plants or animals from these three off-shore reefs and that includes fishing."
The new protection was initially proposed as a result of overfishing after the exclusion zone was lifted from around the shipwrecked Rena in 2016. But while most regional council decisions are taken to the public for consultation, this one was different.
"When we consulted on our coastal plan in 2014, the rule wasn't in there," Omundsen said.
"We had recognised those reefs as having cultural and biodiversity significance but once it got into the court process, where the rule started to be developed and written, there was no opportunity for consultation that people would normally be expected to see when there were new fishing rules or new marine protected rules coming into place."
Omundsen said the new protection area was directly required by the Environment Court, a decision that was appealed in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
"It was asked that more stringent rules be put in place to protect the reefs. There were a number of appellants to the process. Some specific requests for a tightened rule framework came from the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust and that was supported by Forest & Bird."
Many in the local fishing community aren't happy with the lack of consultation with comments like "the worst process ever" appearing often on social media.
"We do recognise they haven't been part of this process," Omundsen said.
"We've been trying to work closely with local fishing clubs and recreational fishers particularly in this area just to work through what it means to them because we know this is impacting on fishing areas that are really important to them."
Also affected is Ngāti Whakahemo, the acknowledged owners and kaitiaki of Motunau, which is one of the reefs.
"The Motiti marine protected area is devastating for us - Ngāti Whakahemo at Motunau – because it makes it illegal for us to be Māori," Kura Paul said.
"It extinguishes the ability for us to be able to practice our traditional customary practices and to pass on that knowledge to the next generations."
Paul said the decision was news to her hapū, which wasn't part of the legal process.
"We weren't consulted – we knew nothing about it so it was done to us not with us.
"Since 1878 - Ngāti Whakahemo are the legislative owners of Motunau, so 143 years we have held title over the island and her reefs. We were totally excluded. It criminalises us. At Motunau, Plate Island, that's where we teach our babies, our mokopuna to dive for kinas."
From commercial fishing operations to recreational divers and spearfishing, the rule will apply to everyone equally and the regional council is prepared to enforce it.
"The rule's in place to protect the reefs," Omundsen said.
"It's very clear that you can't take any marine life from the three protected areas and we have to implement that rule. We're hoping education works but we do have enforcement tools and we will need to use them."
Although the ruling comes from the Environment Court, Bay of Plenty Regional Council can review the Motiti Protection Area in the next few years as fresh data on the reef's biodiversity comes available.
"Our rules have a 10-year span in our coastal plan and we're required to review them after 10 years. We could do that earlier if there was new information available," Omundsen said.
"I wouldn't say it's in place for ever. What we can do over the next 10 years is gather more information and better information so we know what the best management is for the reefs."
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