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Background to Ashley River mouth

August 10, 2006

Background to Ashley River mouth /Rakahuri whitebaiting issue

Environment Canterbury’s Regional Coastal Environment Plan became operative on November 30 last year. It prohibits the use of unauthorized motor vehicles in the Coastal Marine Area (CMA) in the Ashley River/Rakahuri-Saltwater Creek Estuary all year round.

The traditional route to the mouth of the Ashley River/Rakahuri passes through the CMA. This means that an alternative is required if whitebaiters wish to drive to the mouth, a kilometre from the beach carpark.

The Ashley River/Rakahuri-Saltwater Creek Estuary is of national and international significance as a habitat for rare and endangered.birds, and protective mechanisms are required to ensure their survival. It also contains a significant area of saltmarsh vegetation of which little remains in Canterbury.

“Work on the Regional Coastal Environment Plan began in 1992, with subsequent consultation and many views submitted from many different beach and river-users, including whitebaiters. All district councils within Canterbury region are bound by this plan which has been signed off by the Minister of Conservation,” said ECan chairman Sir Kerry Burke.

“ECan councillors Bob Kirk, chair of the coastal portfolio committee, and North Canterbury councillors Ross Little and Robert Johnston met with whitebaiters last November on site. That group of whitebaiters wanted to continue using the Waimakariri District Council’s gate to access the beach and river for whitebaiting, and agreed that a solution would be investigated. While some whitebaiters regard driving through the estuary as their right, others concede that some changes are needed.

“However, no easy solution has been found. The areas south of the gateway access area, including the camping ground, are reserve lands. So whitebaiters this season may have to do what whitebaiters did not very long ago and what whitebaiters have to do in many other places - walk to the river mouth and not rely upon vehicle access. The distance to the river mouth from the beach carpark is about a kilometre, depending on the position of the river mouth.

“Four wheel drive access with its resultant damage to a fragile coastal environment is a relatively new thing and increasing vehicle use, some of it quite irresponsible, is a major issue to many beach users.

“ECan acknowledges that whitebaiters tend not to be in the “hooning” category, but a line-up of vehicles on a beach can also be intimidatory to people on foot, not to mention the danger of vehicles moving backward and forwards in an area with walkers. It is a much more invasive use of public land than a line up of people catching whitebait with accompanying containers who have walked to the spot,” Sir Kerry said.

Access to the estuary and beach at Waikuku Beach is controlled by the Waimakariri District Council, not Environment Canterbury. There are policies in the in the Tuhaitara* Coastal Reserve and Waikuku Beach Reserves Management Plan endorsed by Waimakariri District Council which prohibit the use of motorised vehicles within the reserves.

“The meeting at Waimakariri District Council, August 15, 4 pm, will look at alternative solutions to this issue. However, so far each solution creates other legal and safety issues and also does not resolve the inherent inequity which would occur if only whitebaiters were allowed vehicle access to the estuary and river mouth area via the coastal marine area, and at other times everyone else was not allowed this right,” said Sir Kerry.

Environment Canterbury is currently also preparing a non-statutory coastal management plan for the area from the Waimakariri River north to the Waipara River, in conjunction with beach communities and interested parties. Its aim is to integrate the management of the coastal area, and to meet the often conflicting requirements of different users, well exemplified by this issue, while meeting environmental bottom-lines. This plan cannot override any policies in the Regional Coastal Environment Plan, which are law.


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