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Will RMA reforms stop regional interference in fisheries?

Friday 2 July 2021

The much anticipated reform of the Resource Management Act is underway, with Environment Minister David Parker making initial announcements this week.

The key replacement legislation for the unweildy and much cursed Resource Management Act (RMA) will be called the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA).

Of importance to the seafood industry, is the two-stage consultation on this legislation that will offer us a chance to address the vexatious overlaps that currently exist between the RMA and the Fisheries Act. This overlap allows regional councils to use the RMA for ‘biodiversity-related purposes’, something the Fisheries Act already covers, with the legal obligation to ‘avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects of fishing’ and maintain biological biodiversity of the aquatic environment.

The duplication of the functions of the Fisheries Act and the RMA have already resulted in costly and lengthy litigation and the NBA consultation process is a chance to sort this out.

The two part consultation process, which the government admits is unusual, but the industry welcomes, will see public consultation through a select committee inquiry – what they are calling an ‘exposure draft’ – and then another select committee process when the full Bill is introduced to Parliament.

Industry is keen to draw a clear line between the functions of the NBA and the Fisheries Act and would like it to be unequivocal. The duplication is confusing and unnecessary.

This overlap between the current RMA and the Fisheries Act united recreational and commercial fishers in the Bay of Plenty when the regional council were forced to use its powers under the Coastal Environment Plan to ban fishing around Motiti Island - a decision that went all the way to the Appeal Court.

Industry’s views continue to be that the Fisheries Act is the rightful place where adverse environmental effects of fishing should be managed, and it is perfectly equipped to do so.

Careful consideration also needs to be given to the Deed of Settlement which states M?ori endorse the QMS and acknowledge that it is a lawful and appropriate regime for the sustainable management of commercial fishing in New Zealand.

Removing duplication also removes complexity, something the reforms of the RMA set out to do.

Further, regional councils have neither the resources nor the management capacity to monitor fishing compliance with the rules they impose.

We applaud Minister Parker’s drive to simplify what is a bureaucratic, tangled, costly, and complex piece of legislation and we believe removing this duplication will be part of the solution.

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