In July 2000 the Government agreed to develop an Oceans Policy for New Zealand. The purpose of the policy is to deliver integrated and consistent management of the oceans within New Zealand's jurisdiction.
New Zealand's ocean and marine resources are valued for a wide range of uses, which include visual amenity, fishing, transport, mining, marine farming, and pleasure boating. Conflict often arises amongst existing uses, and between existing and new uses, and trade-offs need to be made. There is, however, no overall policy framework for the government to set objectives for oceans management, and only limited means to reconcile competing uses in the marine environment.
The many statutes currently in place to manage activities in the marine environment have a variety of purposes and take different approaches to resource allocation and management. In addition, most of the statutes contain some mechanism to reconcile conflicts that arise between uses that are the focus of the particular statute, but there are no effective means to reconcile conflicts between uses regulated under different statutes—for instance, between the Fisheries Act and the Resource Management Act. This means the outcomes can be inconsistent and/or unfair. Recent examples where this inconsistency of approach has caused difficulties include the development of the aquaculture reforms and the Marine Reserves Bill. Existing processes may not be fair if a new use is authorised without taking into account any adverse consequences, such as spillover effects or restriction of access, on existing users.
In addition, current statutes fail to meet all existing operational issues associated with the marine environment, and they are not well placed to manage the opportunities and challenges of the future. The Resource Management Act allows for planning of the coastal marine area, but in practice this has been of limited effectiveness due to insufficient strategic direction in local government plans, capability and funding constraints, and limited allocation tools. In general, coastal permits are allocated on a first in, first served basis, and there are limited means within the Resource Management Act to select what might be the best use in any particular area. In the area beyond the territorial sea there is a very limited statutory framework to manage the environmental impacts or use conflicts associated with emerging uses (other than fishing or shipping).
In 2001, a Ministerial Advisory Committee led the consultation on an overall vision of the Oceans Policy. Officials subsequently prepared draft policy proposals. The project was put on hold in mid-2003 while the Government addressed issues concerning the foreshore and seabed. The Foreshore and Seabed Act was passed in late 2004, meaning that there is now certainty on how matters such as public access and customary rights to the foreshore and seabed need to be reflected in the Oceans Policy. The whole-of-government officials group was reconvened in early 2005 to revise the draft policy proposals in light of this and other policy initiatives that have progressed in the intervening period.
In July 2005, Government agreed to a draft Oceans Policy framework as a basis for further policy development, with consultation to occur in 2006. The Ministry of Fisheries is a major contributor to this whole-of-government project, which is led by the Ministry for the Environment.