Forest & Bird supports tangata whenua bid for rahui

On the eve of Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s decision whether to allow the RENA wreck to remain on the Astrolabe Reef, Forest & Bird and tangata whenua are asking the government to maintain the area’s exclusion zone for fishing.  

Whether the RENA is permitted to remain on the reef or not, Forest & Bird and Nga Hapu o Motiti want the area around the wreck excluded from fishing for at least another 2 years to allow marine biodiversity to continue its recovery.

An exclusion zone was put in place by Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Harbourmaster in accordance with the NZ Maritime Act’s safe ship management bylaws after the RENA grounded. However, it’s likely the exclusion zone may soon be lifted leaving the area vulnerable and open to commercial and recreational fishing. Tanagatawhenua want to replace this protection with a temporary closure -  rahui - under the NZ Fisheries Act.

An application for a two year temporary closure of Te Tau o Taiti/Astrolabe Reef has been lodged on behalf of Nga Hapu o Motiti, who identify with, and have kaitiakitanga over Motiti Island and surrounding waters. 

The area sought for rahui covers three nautical miles around a point on Astrolabe Reef, and covers an area of approximately 97km2.

Forest & Bird Chief Executive Hone McGregor supports the temporary closure, also known as rahui, on the grounds that a continued exclusion zone would maintain the improvement in the marine biodiversity, and that these benefits are not lost. 

Mr McGregor believes the recovery of biodiversity of Te Tau o Taiti over the last four years should not be lost “prior to a community discussion on the future protection of the marine environments at both Te Tau o Taiti and Motiti Island, and the creation of a temporary closure would create the opportunity for this discussion to take place.” 

Te Atarangi Sayers, Nga Hapu o Motiti, with a BSc Dip marine science, is urging the community to support its application. 

“It would be heart breaking to see the wreck left in place, but it would be far worse to stop marine recovery by allowing the premature resumption of fishing. Even before the RENA went aground, Tangata whenua had noticed the depletion of fish stocks from the area. 

“Combining an already declining fish stock with significant pollution from oil, cargo, debris and other contaminants has put an already threatened species under even more stress,” said Te Atarangi Sayers.

He says marine life is only just starting to recover and implores the community to support tangata whenua in its bid to recognise and give effect to a rahui on the area and allow species and marine life to continue to heal. 

“The decision whether to endorse our rahui rests with the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy. We ask our community to make a submission in support of the temporary closure. We ask Nathan Guy to recognise our rahui with urgency.”

Submissions on Nga Hapu o Motiti’s application for temporary closure under the NZ Fisheries Act close on the 14th March 2016 after which time Minister Nathan Guy will make a decision.