The Government has moved to salvage a master plan to save Auckland's blue backyard.

The much-vaunted Sea Change Plan, developed over four years by a cross-sector group, aimed to create a marine spatial plan that would recommend what activities should take place and where in the 1.2 million hectare gulf marine park.

Bringing together 181 separate proposals, it would determine what areas should be safe-guarded and shape plans to come.

But, in a bleak report this year, the Hauraki Gulf Forum warned the effort would "probably fail" because it wasn't enforceable and was "probably unfundable, at least under present arrangements", given the cost involved in implementing it.


Strides to save the gulf - now under unprecedented pressure from pollution and over-fishing – had been meanwhile dogged by legislative conflicts, particularly between the Fisheries Act and Resource Management Act.

In their report, the forum leaders were especially scathing of Crown representatives appointed by the ministers of Conservation, Fisheries and Maori affairs, who, rather than working together to solve problems, had been "passive reporters of ministry actions" or "advocates for single issue policies".

But today, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash offered hope the Sea Change plan might be revived, with the establishment of a new ministerial advisory committee tasked with helping to implement it.

Nash said the Government was serious about moving forward.

"Our priority now is to engage with participants about how best to make progress."

The establishment of the new committee would include representatives from various groups and marked a "key first step".

The Department of Conservation and Fisheries New Zealand would now begin talking to tangata whenua affected by the proposals, councils and other parties.

Once the consultation was complete, the two ministers would appoint the members of the committee.


"Implementing the Sea Change Plan is a massive challenge but we're committed to working collaboratively with stakeholders to restore the health of the Hauraki Gulf," Sage said.

Estimates suggest the gulf today supports less than 45 per cent of the fish "biomass" that it did in 1925, after decades of over-harvesting.

Snapper and rock lobster populations were well below target stock levels, while numbers of john dory, gurnard and trevally had also fallen to worrying levels.

Fishing had cut snapper rates by 80 per cent, with the biggest impact on old, large fish, and growth rates had slowed.

Similarly, crayfish numbers have been slashed to about 20 per cent of their 1945 levels.

While the gulf was subject to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, the Crown had taken only a limited account of the legislation after courts ruled it had conflicting objectives.


Beyond this act, just 0.3 per cent of the gulf was protected by statutes.

There were six marine reserves constituted under the 1971 Marine Reserves Act, yet only one had been created in this century, and since the marine park act had been in place.

With Auckland's population having boomed over the past decade, increasing by almost a quarter of a million people between 2006 and 2016, the forum leaders had called on Sage to progress new marine protected areas legislation.