Can regional plans control the effects of fishing, and if so, how far can these controls go?
The High Court has recently held that regional councils can impose planning controls over fishing in their regional plans under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). We are yet to see if this decision will be upheld, as we wait for an appeal of the High Court’s finding to be determined by the Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, the Environment Court has released an interim decision that indicates what the scope of regional planning controls over fishing might look like.
In short – the Court approved controls related to fishing methods that may damage the benthic environment or where they impact particularly in sea birds or other marine mammals.
These decisions spark a particular interest among many, as they relate to the Motiti Natural Environment Management Area (MNEA), in the Bay of Plenty, which includes the Astrolabe Reef on which the MV Rena grounded in 2011.
We provide a recap and update on the continuing discussion about fishing controls under the RMA below.
Recap of the High Court decision – regional plans can impose planning controls over fishing
In our December 2017 edition of Envirolink we analysed the High Court’s decision (on appeal from the Environment Court) in Attorney-General v Trustees of the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust  NZHC 1429 and  NZHC 1886. This case concerned the overlap between the Fisheries Act 1996 (FA) and the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and ultimately whether regional plans can include controls on fishing.
Although the High Court felt it unnecessary to make any declaration, it upheld the reasoning of the Environment Court. It found that regional councils can impose planning controls over fishing to maintain indigenous biological diversity if the control of fishing is to manage the effects or externalities of fishing on the wider environment that are not already subject to a FA control. Justice Whata opined that such planning controls might relate to intrinsic values, wāhi tapu, navigation, natural landscape, and non-fishing commercial or recreational activities.
On 21 March 2018, the Court of Appeal granted leave for the Attorney-General to appeal the High Court’s decision (Attorney-General v The Trustees of the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust  NZCA 67). The Court of Appeal’s substantive decision on this matter is expected late 2018 or early 2019.
Update on the Environment Court decision – what planning controls over fishing might encompass
In the meantime, the Environment Court has released a related interim decision in Motiti Rohe Moana Trust & Ors v Bay of Plenty Regional Council  NZEnvC 067. The issue in the Environment Court was whether further controls should be included within the Bay of Plenty proposed Regional Council Environment Plan (Proposed Regional Plan) to avoid adverse effects on the outstanding and high values of the MNMA (recognised in both the Proposed Regional Plan and the Regional Policy Statement).
The Court concluded, in an interim basis, that changes to the Regional Coastal Plan would be appropriate. This included:
- prohibition of any damage, destruction, removal of flora and fauna within three distinct areas of the MNEMA (surrounding the Astrolabe and Okaparu Reefs and Brewis Shoal; Schooner Rocks and Motunau Island); and
- the imposition of controls within the balance of the MNEMA, in particular in relation to fishing methods that may damage the benthic environment or where they impact particularly on sea birds or other marine mammals, as part of the investigation and reporting undertaken in accordance with methods set out in the Regional Coastal Plan, taking into account the values already recognised and provided for.
The Court also found that the biodiversity, natural character and cultural values of an area in the coastal marine area is able to be recognised by multiple methods under both the RMA and other legislation. It noted that it is intended that the three areas (identified in (a) above) are interim measures while various bodies seek to adopt an integrated approach to the avoidance of adverse effects on those values, and that a plan change or other mechanisms may be introduced in due course, either as part of the review process included in the Proposed Regional Plan, or by other bodies in conjunction with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and other parties.
The Court’s decision is subject to a number of issues being resolved, including the decisions of superior courts including the Court of Appeal (noted above) and the wording of the relevant Proposed Regional Plan provisions being finalised to achieve the decision.
Who can help
Partner - Environment and Planning
Rachel provides advice on all aspects of environmental and resource management law for private and public sector clients – from design through to approval, implementation and operation.
Rachel has advised extensively on requirements for resource consents, including major industrial and infrastructure projects, and implications of planning requirements. She has significant experience in obtaining complex environmental and project approvals for developers, and advises on other environmental issues including pollution licensing and contaminated land.
Her commercial experience means Rachel can provide practical, down-to-earth solutions to environmental problems in any context – corporate transactions, planning projects or site management.
In recognition of her environmental expertise, Rachel is President of the New Zealand Resource Management Law Association.
Partner - Environment and Planning
Bianca is a specialist in resource management and environmental law. She provides advice on all aspects of the Resource Management Act 1991 and related legislation. She has experience across a broad range of development projects and environmental issues, including in the commercial, industrial, infrastructure, aquaculture, forestry and energy sectors. Bianca’s clients value her knowledge of their business and her clear commercial advice on resource consent and planning process.
Bianca has extensive experience of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, with direct involvement in the regional policy statement, business, transport, heritage and air quality chapters. She also acted for several clients to achieve an uplift in zoning or area specific precinct controls.
Bianca also has experience in the related fields of the Public Works Act and the Local Government Act, including development contributions and private development agreements.
Special Counsel - Environment and Planning
Clare is a Special Counsel in our environment team
She has extensive expertise across the range of environmental work – from obtaining and managing designations, consents and other authorisations for infrastructure, commercial and industrial clients to advising on the environmental aspects of international financing arrangements.
She also advises on public law and Public Works Act issues.
From her experience in the state sector, Clare has in-depth knowledge of how central and local government work.
Stephanie de Groot
Senior Associate - Environment and Planning
Stephanie is a Senior Associate in the Environment Team. She specialises in providing advice on all aspects of environmental and resource management law to private and public sector clients including property developers, infrastructure providers and clients in the commercial, industrial, oil and gas, aquaculture and forestry sectors.
Stephanie is experienced in advising on a broad range of issues from consenting, planning and regulatory compliance through to due diligence for major acquisitions and divestments and environmental dispute resolution. She regularly advises on complex and contentious matters.
Stephanie has a science background, and in addition to her legal qualifications has a bachelor of science majoring in geography and environmental science. She also has previous experience in the regulatory services department of the Auckland Regional Council (now Auckland Council), contributing to the former air quality, industrial and trade processes and coastal teams.