Proposed new marine protected areas, rules for polluters and changes to commercial fishing methods have been revealed in a long-awaited master plan to halt the fouling of Auckland's blue backyard.
The collaborative policy blueprint, called Sea Change-Tai Timu Tai Pari, was unveiled in Auckland this evening after four years of development.
The plan - the first of its kind in New Zealand - sought to help stem the flow of sediment and other pollutants into the Hauraki Gulf, ease pressures on wildlife, fish stocks and kaimoana and restore the health of crucial ecosystems.
It lays out steps to "phase out" bottom-contact fishing methods such as trawling, Danish seining, set netting and dredging, review the way fish stocks are managed, create 13 new marine protected areas (MPAs) and extend two existing ones.
The suggested sites of the new MPAs were at the Mokohinau Islands, Little Barrier (Hauturu) Island, Cape Colville, Alderman (Ruamaahua) Islands, Mercury (Ahuahu) Islands, Slipper (Whakahau) Island, Whangateau Harbour, Kawau Islands, Tiritiri Matangi Islands, Noises Islands, Rangitoto and Motutapu, the Firth of Thames and the Motukawao Group.
The new MPAs would include no take areas nested within "larger, special management areas with fisheries management objectives".
Two existing marine reserves at Hahei (Te Whanganui a Hei Marine Reserve), Coromandel region and Leigh (Cape Rodney - Okakari Pt Marine Reserve), north of Auckland, are recommended for extensions.
Presently, there are six marine reserves where no habitat disturbance or removal of marine life is allowed in the gulf, and five MPAs where no bottom-contact fishing is allowed.
The new marine spatial plan recommended new local "Ahu Moana" marine areas, from the mean high-water mark to a kilometre offshore, would allow mana whenua and local communities to work together to manage their coastal area using existing statutory rights and practices.
It also suggested areas for an expansion of environmentally sustainable marine farming, without over-riding regional coastal planning and resource consent processes.
Potential new aquaculture areas included sites for inter-tidal shellfish and oysters at Thames, Kaiaua, Coromandel Harbour South, Coromandel Harbour North, Whangapoua and Maraetai, mussel and fish sites at Colville, Great Mercury, East Coromandel, South Great Barrier Island and mussel sites at the western Firth of Thames, Ponui and Whitianga.
It proposed new rules that would slash sediment and nutrients entering the coastal marine area to levels which support healthy habitats, as well as building more wetland areas to capture sediment.
Although backed by councils, the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries, the plan is non-statutory and has been steered by stakeholder working groups that have put environmental, iwi, industry and recreation groups at the same table.
Paul Majurey, co-chair of the governance group which ultimately oversaw the plan, said the development had been a "major piece of work".
"The challenge now is for agencies to pick up the recommendations suggested and to optimise the tools they have at their disposal to chart a new way forward for the health of the gulf."
The most recent environmental stocktake of the gulf painted a grim picture: snapper and crayfish populations slashed by three-quarters, and development and intensive agriculture heaping more pressure on estuaries and coastlines already affected by sediment and chemical run-off.
The plan's architects were worried the Hauraki Gulf's plight would only worsen, with more than 2.8 million people projected to be living within 80km of the marine park by 2041, and the Auckland region's population booming to 2.5 million by 2041.
They say a marine spatial plan - a relatively modern concept globally - would offer a strong framework to guide the management of the gulf's coastal area, protecting marine habitats and replenishing fish stocks, while making the gulf more productive.
"We all need to work together if the gulf and its resources are to be better protected," Majurey said.
"This plan provides us with a blueprint for action to make the gulf increasingly productive, and to support healthy and prosperous communities within its boundaries."
Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said current policy settings clearly hadn't worked for the gulf, and a reset was needed.
"It looks like the plan does that and proposes an impressive array of new approaches designed to reduce conflict and get buy-in to a major restoration effort."
It also had "moral authority" because all groups had been represented in its development - but Taylor added that legislation would still be required to drive progress.
"The Hauraki Gulf Forum needs modernising and more teeth - hopefully the Government and the regional councils will work together and move decisively on implementation."