Speech at the launch of the State of Our Gulf Report 2023
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa, and thank you for the introduction, Alex.
Here we are again, for the second time this week, talking about the Hauraki Gulf.
On Wednesday, it was my pleasure to join with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Conservation, Willow-Jean Prime, to host many of you at the announcement of two significant developments – the Hauraki Gulf/Tikapa Moana Marine Protection Bill, and the Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Plan.
Both came out of the Revitalising the Gulf report and from the incredibly important work the forum has done.
The report you are releasing today – the seventh State of the Gulf Report - underlines again why it matters.
I don’t need to tell you why the Gulf is so important – ecologically, culturally and economically. The Forum’s recent valuation report put the natural capital of the Gulf at $100 billion.
It’s special not only to the people who live here, but also to many of us who live elsewhere.
The report you’re releasing today shows that despite being a marine park for 23 years, the health of the Gulf is continuing to decline.
That’s why the Government has a comprehensive work plan under way
The Hauraki Gulf/Tikapa Moana Protection Bill creates 19 new marine protection areas and triples the amount of marine protection in the gulf, from about 6 per cent to 18 per cent.
The bill has been drafted and will be introduced into the House before Parliament rises for the election.
The Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Plan is the country’s first for a specific area, and the first to take an ecosystems-based approach.
It also over-turns the presumptions that bottom-trawling can occur. Instead of allowing this fishing practice to be used everywhere except in specified areas, it will be banned everywhere except in very specific and limited places, called trawl corridors.
The exact size and location of these trawl corridors will be subject to public consultation very soon, and I can’t pre-empt that statutory process.
But I do want to be clear that I expect the options for consultation will significantly change the current situation, in which about 27 per cent of the Gulf is closed to trawling – and can I encourage you all to make submissions on the options when consultation opens in the next month or so.
Banning trawling and Danish seining completely – as recommended by the Sea Change group - was considered as part of the work to develop the Revitalising the Gulf recommendations.
There were concerns, however, that that this would simply see those practices move to other areas outside the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park – especially Northland and the Bay of Plenty. That fishing would be displaced.
The Revitalising the Gulf report considered it better to base decisions on where trawling should be allowed on scientific evidence.
That is, that we protect the benthic areas of the highest ecological significance, and allow trawling in “corridors” where it will do limited harm.
To understand the benthic environment, Fisheries New Zealand commissioned the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research to develop a “zonation” tool with GIS mapping to look at different scenarios and come up with the options that will be publicly consulted on.
The other aspects of the Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Plan do not require a further statutory process. I have approved the plan and it is now being implemented.
These policy decisions – the fisheries plan and the Hauraki Gulf/Tikapa Moana Protection Bill – are just two – albeit very important – actions the Government is taking that protect the Gulf.
We’ve also got a National Plan of Action - Seabirds in place to reduce the number of seabirds caught by the commercial fishing fleet.
And as anyone who has spent any time learning about marine ecology knows – and as your report makes clear – what is happening on the land is at least as important as what is happening at sea.
Several commentators, including forum co-chair Nicola MacDonald, have raised land use issues this week, and they’re right.
As a resource management law specialist (and I probably should tell you that I also have a degree in ecology) I have long been worried about the impact of sedimentation – essentially, the process of the land ending up in the sea because of what we’re doing in our cities and on our farms.
The Government is addressing this through a raft of changes, including Our Essential Freshwater package to protect not only lakes and rivers, but also the wetlands and mangroves that are so essential to the health of marine environments like the Hauraki Gulf, by keeping livestock out of waterways and limiting the amount of nitrogen and other synthetic fertilisers that can be applied on farms, and by controlling stock on steep slopes to avoid sediment runoff.
The Essential Freshwater package is already showing results – nitrogen fertiliser use is dropping, winter grazing practices have improved, and farm-related greenhouse gas emissions are coming down. Recently, Waikato and Southland farmers became the first to be required to have freshwater farm plans in place.
And still talking about water – we’re looking at how the Water Services Legislation Bill can include provisions that make it clear how stormwater networks should be managed on private land.
At the moment, Auckland Council is using bylaws to try and do this, but it is hard to enforce. It makes sense that the responsibilities of land owners and the new water services entities should be clear, and consistent across the country.
Moving to something especially close to my heart - our reform of the resource management system includes an effective compliance and enforcement regime and a substantial increase in penalties to make sure developers and others do what they need to do to stop soils being washed into oceans and rivers.
As suggested by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, we have included a requirement that the National Planning Framework must provide direction on green spaces as well as urban trees. This change was made via a supplementary order paper.
And, as requested by the Auckland Council and others who made submissions, green infrastructure provisions were included via select committee changes to the Natural Built Environment Bill (which replaces the RMA).
And then we get to climate change. The State of the Gulf report identifies this as a huge risk to the health of the Gulf, and it’s right.
Ocean acidification, marine warming, increased storms washing more sediment down rivers and into the sea, disrupted breeding, damage to the food chain causing species to starve…we all know and fear the serious threats of climate change.
It’s only six months since Aucklanders endured the biggest floods the city has ever seen.
Last month was the hottest ever recorded – it hasn’t been this warm for 120,000 years.
And this week, scientists are – again - sounding the alarm about a cascade of changes in Antarctica, affecting its ocean, glaciers, ice shelves, weather and biodiversity.
This Government is the first New Zealand Government to really take climate change seriously.
We’ve passed the Zero Carbon Act, set the country’s first carbon budgets, developed the first emissions reduction plan and – finally – Aotearoa New Zealand is bending the curve on emissions.
Alongside cutting greenhouse gas emissions to limit climate change, the best protection we can give the Hauraki Gulf against ocean acidification, marine warming and a host of other impacts, is to make sure it is in as healthy a state as possible.
There is hope – and that’s something I found heartening when I was reading this latest State of the Gulf report.
It talks about “a new chapter” and “being on the cusp of important change”.
The two announcements the Prime Minister made this week for the Hauraki Gulf, along with the host of other work I’ve outlined here, are what can – and will – make the difference. This work must continue.
Thank you – all of you – for the years and years of hard work you have done for the Hauraki Gulf – on the Sea Change plan that sparked this change, on the Revitalising the Gulf strategy, and for all the other inspirational things you do.
Nōreira tēnā koutou katoa.