Councillors speak out about sad state of city’s marine playground

As $100 million of shiny new craft go on display at Auckland's On the Water Boat Show, the Hauraki Gulf has received a damning report about its health.

Depleted fish stocks, new marine pests and pollution by toxic chemicals from the land are highlighted in an updated State of the Hauraki Gulf Report.

The findings show a continuing and steady decline on its 2011 state and Hauraki Gulf Forum chairman John Tregidga has called a press conference for Monday to appeal for action "to stop the degradation".

Two of Auckland Council's representatives on the multi-agency forum, Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee, yesterday broke ranks to express their frustration at lack of progress.

Advertisement

Mrs Fletcher said the fresh report showed the gulf was still suffering from human activities in its catchment area and waters.

"The report is a damning account of our collective failure to take action."

"The 2011 report was wake-up call but nothing has happened. Whether you come from an ecological, recreational or economic perspective, we need to take action now and not just wait for more planning."

Mrs Fletcher said it was ironic the report was coming out when there was a focus on Auckland's marine environment with the boat show at Viaduct Harbour and a move to grow cruise ship visits and extend tourism in the inner gulf.

The lack of new measures by local bodies and government agencies seemed poor compared to the successful efforts by voluntary groups to protect native birds and bush.

Mr Lee said the forum was set up 15 years ago to look after the Gulf.

"There is still abysmal knowledge of state of the Gulf fisheries and individual species - how can we monitor the state if we do not have information." Mr Lee said there had been no leadership and no progress towards establishing more marine reserves in the Gulf.

"That's disgraceful."

Advertisement

Forum chairman Mr Tregidga said he shared the disappointment.

"But some good things have been done, for example, the councils' upgrading waste treatment plants, which has improved e-coli and phosphate levels.

"We know Fonterra and NZ Dairy are looking at farm practices and options. We are yet to see it in actual readings that we are getting in the science - it's not showing an improvement."

Down at the Viaduct, where 200 boats are on show and the crowd included many overseas buyers and media, NZ Marine Industries chief executive Peter Busfield said he was surprised that the report was unfavourable. "If you take away the Hauraki Gulf, you would not have a boating industry.

"You need waterways to get experience and build the technology and expertise whether it's winning Olympic Games medals or sailing for the America's Cup, unless you had this playground next to you.

"From my observations, I've heard nothing from boating people about problems in the Gulf and I saw dolphins and whales coming up under the Harbour Bridge last week and the fishing is good."

Mr Busfield said the marine industry around the Hauraki Gulf was worth $1 billion and employed thousands of people.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said environmental impacts on the Hauraki Gulf and other water bodies in New Zealand have built up over generations, and from many different sources.

"There is no quick fix, but there is a huge amount of good work underway.

"Three weeks ago National announced our policy of creating a recreational fishing park covering most areas of the inner Hauraki Gulf.

"Commercial fishing will be excluded from this area which would be a first for New Zealand."

Mr Guy said this would be part of a wider reform of marine protection legislation, which gave a stronger role for local communities and iwi in decision-making, and improved the processes for establishing reserves, parks and sanctuaries.

"Last year we announced a major package of reform for the Snapper 1 area to reduce waste and target illegal activity in the commercial sector.

"This includes cameras and observers on vessels, GPS, 'move-on' rules, a maximum size limit for commercial longline fishers, and new scientific tagging research that will help confirm snapper population movements."

"As a Government we've introduced the first ever National Policy Statement on Freshwater, with bottom lines for water quality.

"We are also investing over $350 million towards cleaning up historical contamination of our waterways, assisted by many community groups and organisations."

Under pressure

• Snapper stocks marginally improved yet well below target for sustainable management.

• Four more Bryde's whales killed since 2011 due to ship strike and tangling in fishing gear.

• Water quality severely affected by nitrogen leaching - caused by dairy farming on Hauraki Plains - and increased sediment run-off.

• Toxic chemicals and heavy metal concentrations from Auckland estuaries.

• Four new foreign invasive marine species join six serious pests already established.

• Outbreak of the OsHV oyster virus hit marine farms.