The final decision on the proposed Motiti Protection Areas was released by the Environment Court on Friday afternoon.

The decision directs Bay of Plenty Regional Council to implement new rules within its Regional Coastal Environment Plan to protect three reef systems near Motiti Island and complete scientific monitoring to inform future integrated marine management solutions.

As a consequence of the Court’s decision the taking of fish will be prohibited around three specific reef systems near Motiti Island. The rules will apply to everyone, including customary, recreational and commercial fishers.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chief Executive Fiona McTavish says although the Motiti Protection Areas have come about through an appeal process rather than being proposed by the Council, the outcome is a good one for the marine environment.

“The Environment Court decision acknowledges the significant marine biodiversity, landscape and cultural values of these reef systems and takes the first steps to helping ensure they are protected for future generations. These significant values were already recognised in the Coastal Plan, although there were no rules in the Plan preventing the taking of fish in order to protect those values.”

Primarily conducted through the Environment Court and involving complex legal arguments, the five year appeal process has been demanding for regional council, tangata whenua and interested stakeholders alike. The process was longer than usual because the question of whether regional councils can control fishing through regional plans was tested in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

“We understand these reefs are important to the local fishing community and that many will feel affected by the change.

“We are committed to providing clarity around what the outcome of this complex legal case means for our community and will be working with all stakeholders to make sure the new rules are well understood”, says Ms McTavish.

The Council is preparing the amendments directed by the Court for final confirmation. Once confirmed by the Court the Council will update the Regional Coastal Environment Plan to include the new provisions. These amendments will then be sent through to the Minister of Conservation for approval. Once approved, the changes will be publicly notified and the rules will become operative and enforceable. It is therefore expected to take a number of months before the rules are implemented.