In this section:

Improving regulation of environmental effects in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone

Date of submission: 27 September 2007
Submitted to: Ministry for the Environment

Identification of NZCA

The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) is a statutory body established by section 6A of the Conservation Act 1987. Its members are appointed by the Minister of Conservation on the nomination or recommendation of four specified bodies (4 members), after consultation with three specified Ministers of the Crown (5 members) and after the receipt of public nominations (4 members). This process ensures that a wide range of perspectives contribute to the advice provided and decisions made by the NZCA. The functions of the NZCA are centred on policy and planning which impact on the administration of conservation areas managed by the Department of Conservation, and the investigation of any conservation matter it considers is of national importance. The NZCA has had a consistent focus on marine matters in recent years and has adopted a set of ‘marine principles’ which are attached to this submission. The NZCA has the power to advocate its interests at any public forum and in any statutory planning process.

General comments

The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) considers it is critical that the fragmented approaches to the management of the New Zealand marine area and marine resources are addressed. The current approaches are not adequate and do not serve existing and future generations of the New Zealand public, nor do they meet our obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity. The NZCA is concerned about the apparent lack of integration of activities and knowledge across different agencies. For instance, there is a concurrent consultation being undertaken over the classification and protection standards for Marine Protected Areas which may be established in the EEZ.

The NZCA sees a need for the definition of such cornerstone words as ‘sustainable’ and ecological health of ocean’ so that they clearly support environmental bottom lines.

Specific comments

Q1: Do you think these outcomes are appropriate? Can you suggest others?

These appear to be appropriate outcomes and we agree that these are interdependent. However, the NZCA has concern about how the weighting of outcomes and benefits will be exercised and by whom. The process of ensuring “environmental bottom lines are not breached”, at the same time as providing for national benefit, is not straightforward and potentially creates risk for environmental protection. The NZCA is concerned that decisions being made on the basis of greatest national benefit could be subject to political whim. It also depends on the valuation of the intangible aspects of protection in a situation where there is conflict between use and protection.

Q2: Do you agree that these are the main problems for regulating environmental effects in the EEZ? Are there others?

Paras 2.14-2.16. The NZCA recognises “the importance of promoting a consistent and principled approach to environmental management across different statutes” and agrees that currently there is no legal or policy mechanism to promote an integrated and consistent approach. However, the notion that one can address gaps by aiming for consistency with existing laws proceeds on the assumption that existing laws are adequate. The NZCA is not convinced that existing laws are adequate or adequately applied.

Para 2.16 states “links can be achieved through legislative references or non-legislative strategic planning tools” and the example is given of the Marine Protected Area Policy & Implementation Plan. The NZCA is not convinced that non-legislative strategic planning tools are adequate to achieve the level of environmental protection required or to enable sustainable management of the EEZ.

Q3: Do agree with this assessment? Which option do you prefer, and why?

The NZCA agrees that there is a need to address problems swiftly and we are very aware that the complexity of managing competing activities and interests in the marine area is increasing.

Para 2.21. The NZCA agrees that the greatest environmental pressure in the EEZ comes from fishing but we are not convinced that these pressures are currently being adequately addressed through fisheries legislation. Only 29% of the demersal fish stocks in New Zealand currently fished under the QMS system have assessments that indicate a current biomass that is greater than the biomass at which maximum sustainable yield would be maintained. The QMS system has been in place for more than 20 years. One of the assumptions made by many supporters of the system was that rights holders would act in a way that maintains long term value of their asset and that they would be interested in the sustainability of their investment. However, rights holders have been shown often to resist research or interpretations of research that could result in their catches being reduced or their costs increased. The past 20 years have shown that there are other pressures and incentives, particularly economic and social ones, which do not have a long term focus. The NZCA strongly agrees that there is a critical need to address cumulative impacts across all activities.

3. Policy Options
The discussion document channels readers into 2 options and then quickly moves to detailed consideration of a single option. It is clear that the Ministry wishes the readers of the discussion document to agree with option 1, focusing on filling key gaps. The NZCA would have preferred a wider range of options to have been explored so that it could have better understood why option 1 is considered optimal for the best long term environmental management of the EEZ. The NZCA is concerned about the risks in developing a short-term fix for a much larger and more complex problem. The need for integrated policies dealing with all of the marine area has been apparent for some time. It is critical for future generations of New Zealanders that this is adequately addressed.

Whichever policy option is selected, the management of the EEZ must address:

  • The current fragmentation of management systems and provide a national overview
  • Develop a precautionary and enforceable management regime
  • Address cumulative impacts/effects across all activities and establish environmental standards and criteria which can be used to assess activities
  • Deal with how competing uses and values are to be weighed/balanced and in situations of conflict which principles are used to make decisions
  • Transparent decision making processes which are timely and provide clarity for both applicants and interested parties
  • Delivery capacity of agencies given responsibilities under new management arrangements.

Q5 Do you have any comments on this proposed purpose?

Para 4.8. The meaning of “reasonably foreseeable” is unclear.

Q6: Do you feel the proposal for the rules here is suitable?

Para 4.10, 4.11-14 – Rules and thresholds – Who will set these, based on what evidence? Who does MfE perceive to be the stakeholders in these situations?

Para 4.16 – The NZCA considers that environmental rules need to apply across different statues and need to be in common. However, the NZCA does not want this to mean that standards will be reduced to the lowest common denominator. There is a need to make changes to existing laws in the interests of consistency, to enable management of cumulative impacts and to achieve environmental bottom lines but these environmental standards need to be ones which are precautionary and will result in long term sustainability.

Para 4.18 – It is not clear if the applicant has to provide evidence/information about cumulative impacts. An applicant may be able to identify some cumulative impacts but is unlikely to be fully aware of the full range of other competing activities. This information is most likely to be more appropriately and fully analysed by agencies with management responsibilities.  How will this be evaluated (criteria, standards) and by whom?

Para 4.23 – The NZCA has a long standing concern about biosecurity in the marine environment. The text in the discussion document appears to focus primarily on risks associated with introducing or providing structures in areas where they were not previously, but there may also be a need to give consideration to biosecurity risks associated with hull fouling (including sea chests), as well as ballast water release and re-ballasting.

Para 4.25-29 – Whilst consistency is worthwhile The NZCA does not want standards to be set at a low level. Current fishing activities are known to be causing significant damage to fragile seamount ecosystems and benthic habitats. The NZCA does not want to see the EEZ managed to the same low standard.

Para 4.32 – The NZCA considers it is important to include the “use it or lose it” provisions, and also the decommissioning and end of life considerations, in the management regimes.

4.35-37 – The NZCA agrees that a precautionary approach is important.

4.42-45 – The NZCA does not want the management regime of the EEZ to strangle innovation and place undue costs on processes and commercial developments planned for the EEZ, but it is very important that the long term interests of New Zealanders are considered. The protection of biodiversity and functioning ecosystems, and the maintenance of ecosystem services across the EEZ, will have far-reaching significance. The identification of interested parties must not exclude opportunities for participation by a wider constituency than people obtaining commercial benefit or those with administrative responsibilities.

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New Zealand Conservation Authority
PO Box 10420
Wellington 6143
Telephone: +64 4 471 3289
Fax: +64 4 381 3057
Email: nzca@doc.govt.nz