Welcome to where the creature called bureaucracy roosts in a nest called nightmare.
The intrinsic value of whitebaiting is not in its commercial market value. Like the fact that the delicious whitebait fritter you are sinking your teeth into is an expensive treat.
The real wealth is known by those who wake early in the morning to secure their favourite spots. Who do their secret and quirky lucky steps in setting the nets. And then wait and wait and ... wait for the whitebait to run. It's exactly in that edge, waiting for nature to do its thing where you find the philosophical and spiritual home of the real whitebaiter. That communion with Mother Nature.
Ironically, the message from Mother Nature, as measured by scientists like Dr Mike Joy, has been clearly spelt out in the last decade. Pollution of our waterways and our coastal marine environment, urban encroachment, and over fishing has depleted whitebait numbers to a stage where they are an endangered species.
There is a need to protect its spawning grounds. Something one can do only by protecting the whole inter-dependent biodiversity and ecology of an area. And we make it harder to do that when, instead of a simple process, we spin a bureaucratic ecology with multiple complexities. Hence the nightmare. Consider a favourite whitebaiting site like the Waikanae Estuary.
Almost all of it is within the boundaries of a scientific reserve managed by DoC. No vehicles are allowed inside except via special permit from the conservator. Surrounding this scientific reserve are two other areas. Firstly, the mean high water mark.
Here the legal responsibility lies with Greater Wellington Regional Council. And its recently notified Proposed Natural Resources Plan has banned cars from being driven along this area.
The reasons are its significance to the habitat of indigenous birds and to local iwi. It's important to note that much of the estuary is below the high water mark. So effectively, most of the estuary has two legal instruments (DoC and GWRC) banning cars. To be able to drive legally along this GWRC jurisdiction requires a resource consent. An onerous process that includes a cost.
Secondly, the area above the mean high water mark. This comes under the jurisdiction of the KCDC. Vehicles are also banned but its bylaw allows for the issuing of simple permits (with conditions) for special events like whitebaiting seasons.
To confuse matters further, the KCDC bylaw allows permitted vehicles to also drive below the high water mark which GWRC has banned! There is a third factor. Iwi have worked with DoC, GWRC and KCDC to secure access to one spot during whitebaiting season. One permit, I understand, had been issued previously for this.
The current complicated framework and clumsy consent and permitting system underpins a challenging human factor. A section of the local community, including members of the very dedicated restoration group, are against any cars accessing the beach.
They are especially against any cars breaching the boundaries of the scientific reserve and are pushing for direct enforcement action. Historically, a minority of whitebaiters have resisted the protocols around vehicle access on the beach. Those who apply for KCDC permits are generally the good guys who observe the conditions. But there are those who don't and they drive into the sensitive reserve areas.
Rather than the more costly, and potentially confrontational, enforcement option, DoC, KCDC and GWRC are signalling increasing its educational resources. It's well known that changing established behaviour takes time. But there are those who believe giving permits for cars on the beach, without an effective monitoring and enforcement system, will create confusion and end up encouraging others.
Managing the coastal marine area, especially a sensitive ecological gem like the Waikanae Estuary which is under pressure from urban development and activities, is a challenge. No vehicles signs have been posted around the Waikanae Estuary.
But, at the end of the day, it's not the rules, regulations and its enforcement that will make the real difference. The answer lies in encouraging an understanding of that direct relationship between our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the natural environment we live in. That edge where Mother Nature speaks.