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Hauraki Gulf protections 'not good enough', say critics

A new strategy to revive the health of Auckland's beleaguered Hauraki Gulf has been criticised by advocates as not going far enough. 

Kina barren at the Noises. Source: Shaun Lee

The Government's Revitalising the Gulf — Government action on the Sea Change Plan will see 18 new marine protection areas created, along with trawl fishing restricted to carefully selected "corridors". 

Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker has described the strategy as "transformative", but advocates told Breakfast it only delivers about five per cent of high-level protection.

The Gulf needs at least 30 per cent protection to restore its mauri, they say. 

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New 'huge' Government strategy to revive health of Hauraki Gulf

"Five per cent is good, but it's not good enough," Hauraki Gulf Forum co-chair Nicola MacDonald said. 

Currently, less than one per cent of the Marine Park is fully protected. 

MacDonald said the strategy was a "good first start" and said the role of mana whenua and tangata whenua should be at the centre to realising the thriving mana of the Gulf.

The Hauraki Gulf Forum also wanted to see bottom-impact fishing methods like dredging and trawling removed from the park entirely. 

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Hauraki Gulf Forum co-chair Nicola MacDonald, Forest & Bird’s Kevin Hague and New Zealand Geographic’s James Frankham agreed a new strategy does not go far enough. Source: Breakfast

In the strategy, trawl fishing has been restricted to carefully selected "corridors" and only some of the new marine protection areas are no-take. 

Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said he also wanted to see bottom dredging completely gone. 

He said the strategy was a "good start", but questioned whether or not a good start was enough at this point, with the Gulf in a "parlous state". 

"The transformation we need, the sea change that we need to restore the Gulf to what it could be, what it was, what it should be ... it's a question of our will and what we choose to do and should we choose to try and reach that aspirational goal."

New Zealand Geographic's James Frankham said it was "nice to be down those first few steps" with the strategy, but like MacDonald and Hague, was still critical.

Source: Sunday

"I don't think it's proportional to the scale of the problem that we're seeing out there, but this is more progress than we've seen in two decades ... but there's an awful long way to go."

Former Conservation Minister Sandra Lee-Vercoe was the most critical, describing the strategy as a "miniscule gesture" which was not a brave way forward.

She said bottom trawling had not been prohibited.

"Five per cent is not a good start in my opinion," she said. 

"Actions speak louder than words. So when Auckland Council is still sludge dumping in the Gulf as we complain about sediment, when it is giving planning consents for marinas and floating car parks over penguin habitat in the Gulf islands, the list goes on and on ...

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Sandra Lee-Vercoe says it is not a brave way forward as bottom trawling wasn’t going to be prohibited. Source: Breakfast

"It is hard to have hope, so the challenge that I have for the minister and this Government is there's never been a better time, but you must do more quickly if we're even going to halt the decline," she said. 

"It's an urgent catastrophe. These steps the minister's announced would have been okay if the health of the Gulf was good. But all of the science shows it's in a disastrous state and that is why brave, high level, meaningful action needs to be taken and five per cent, unfortunately, will not cut it. Still allowing for bottom trawling will not cut it," Lee-Vercoe said. 

"We need far more urgent action, and although I commend the minister for these tiny, tiny steps he has taken, it sort of confirms to me that he doesn't quite appreciate the urgency and the depth and seriousness of the problem."

The Hauraki Gulf has more than 50 islands and spans more than 1.2 million hectares.

In 2020, the sixth State of the Gulf report found 11 of the 14 most commonly caught fish may disappear entirely and more than 15,000 square kilometres of shellfish beds have been lost in the area.

It also found current no-take areas are so small as to be almost meaningless, crayfish have all but disappeared and the total reported commercial catch of fish in the most recent three-year period was around 30 per cent greater than in three years before the marine park was established.