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Legislation to safeguard ocean ecosystems

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

27 June 2008 Media Statement

Embargoed until 10.30am

Legislation to safeguard ocean ecosystems

To help safeguard New Zealand’s ocean ecosystems, the government is drafting legislation to manage the environmental effects of currently unregulated activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Environment Minister Trevor Mallard announced today.

"The oceans around New Zealand are a hugely important resource. This new regime will help safeguard them while providing greater certainty for industries that operate in the EEZ and encouraging investment in sustainable offshore activities.

"We need to prepare for new activities in the EEZ and fill the gaps in environmental controls for existing activities there," Trevor Mallard said.

"Where the environmental effects of activities are already regulated, they will not be covered by the new EEZ legislation. Existing laws for fisheries and maritime transport, for example, will continue to operate largely as at present.

The legislation will set out a new rules and consents regime for the EEZ. New controls are proposed to manage currently unregulated environmental effects of existing activities (such as disturbance of the seafloor through mining and petroleum activities) and the effects of new activities in the EEZ in future (such as marine farming, energy generation, carbon capture and storage).

The existing regime for allocating minerals and petroleum will stay the same, but the environmental effects of those activities will be regulated under the new EEZ regime.
The legislation will also address conflicts between new and existing activities in the EEZ.

An ‘EEZ Commissioner’ will head a new unit, housed within the Ministry for the Environment, which will process applications for consents, and manage monitoring and enforcement of the new regime.

"The legislation will also enable stakeholders to have input into decisions about activities in the EEZ, including specific processes for Maori engagement," Trevor Mallard said.

"I would like to thank the many people involved in shaping the proposals to this stage. The proposals significantly reflect input and feedback from a range of stakeholders and iwi groups."

The Exclusive Economic Zone Environmental Effects Bill is expected to be introduced by late August. The Cabinet paper, question and answers, the discussion document and the summary of submissions are at www.mfe.govt.nz/oceans

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Question and Answers: New Legislation for Managing Environmental Effects in the Exclusive Economic Zone

Why is this legislation needed?
New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has a wide range of biodiversity values and economic opportunities. In December 2006, the government agreed to the development of new legislation for the EEZ which will focus on filling key gaps in existing controls on the environmental effects of activities in the EEZ.

Filling these gaps will:

• protect the ocean environment by improving the regulation of environmental effects of activities in the EEZ; and

• encourage the development of environmentally sustainable activities in the EEZ by providing greater certainty to investors about regulatory controls.

What legislation currently applies in the EEZ and what gaps are there?
Most existing laws in the EEZ regulate specific activities. Fishing and maritime transport and safety, for example, have comprehensive legislative coverage under the Fisheries and Maritime Transport Acts.

This sectoral approach, however, means there are gaps and inconsistencies for regulating environmental effects. The key gaps are assessment of non-fishing activities on seafloor life and habitats (e.g. through potential seabed mining) and direct effects on life in the water column (e.g. effects of seismic surveys).

There is also little ability to assess the effects of new proposals on existing activities and values.

Who was involved in drawing up the proposals for the new legislation?
A wide range of stakeholders and iwi groups contributed to the development of these proposals. The relevant discussion document 'Improving Regulation of Environmental Effects in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone' and a summary of submissions received in response, can be found on the Ministry for the Environment's website www.mfe.govt.nz

What is the scope of the new legislation?
The legislation fills gaps in the regulation of the environmental effects of activities in the EEZ (including the extended continental shelf). Existing laws for fisheries and maritime transport, for example, will continue to operate largely as at present.

Where the environmental effects of activities are already regulated, they will not be covered by the new EEZ legislation. Existing laws for fisheries and maritime transport, for example, will continue to operate largely as at present.

New controls are proposed to manage currently unregulated environmental effects of existing activities (such as disturbance of the seafloor through mining and petroleum activities) and the effects of new activities in the EEZ in future (such as marine farming, energy generation, carbon capture and storage).

The existing regime for allocating minerals and petroleum will stay the same, but the environmental effects of those activities will be regulated under the new EEZ regime.

The legislation will also address conflicts between new and existing activities in the EEZ.

What is the purpose of the new legislation?
The purpose of the legislation is to provide for uses of EEZ resources, to regulate the effects of those uses in order to protect the environment, and to ensure that uses (or the effects of those uses, in the case of non-renewable resources) are environmentally sustainable. The purpose will be accompanied by other provisions that set out environmental objectives for the legislation and economic, cultural and social considerations for decision-makers.

How will the legislation help manage the cumulative effects of activities?
The new legislation will contain a policy statement and set rules and regulations to manage the cumulative effects of activities. It will also require decision-makers to take into account environmental standards set under other legislation when setting environmental standards for the EEZ legislation, to help to manage all activities within a consistent environmental bottom line.

How will applications for new activities be assessed?
Activities will be regulated through a rules and consent framework. Rules will define effect thresholds for different categories of activity: permitted, discretionary and prohibited. An ‘EEZ consent’ will be required for any discretionary activities. Low-impact activities will be permitted activities, and will not require an EEZ consent, if they comply with standards set in the rules. Larger-scale proposals such as petroleum platforms will require a comprehensive assessment of their effects and an EEZ consent.

The EEZ consent process will consider environmental effects, and also whether a proposed activity has a significant adverse effect on other defined interests.

Who will be responsible for the new legislation?
The Minister for the Environment will be responsible for the legislation and regulations, and make decisions on EEZ consent applications.

The Ministry for the Environment will be the administering agency for the legislation, responsible for providing policy advice on the legislation, and for developing regulations and a policy statement for approval by the Minister for the Environment.

The legislation will establish a new ‘EEZ Commissioner’, to be housed within the Ministry for the Environment. The Commissioner will make recommendations to the Minister for the Environment on EEZ consent applications. The Commissioner will also be responsible for the day to day operational administration of the legislation, including information management, monitoring and enforcement functions.

How will interests of Maori be considered under the legislation?
The legislation will take appropriate account of the Treaty of Waitangi through a range of measures, including:
 establishing a statutory Maori advisory panel to provide advice on Maori issues to decision-makers; and
 providing for iwi input and participation in development of the policy statement and rules, and in the consenting process.

Do the proposals affect fishing?
Fishing is regulated under the Fisheries Act 1996. The legislation does not place any new controls on fishing. New activities in the EEZ may, however, have some effect on fishers, e.g. the exclusion zone around an offshore oil platform.

The environmental effects of fishing will be taken into account as part of the assessment of cumulative effects of proposed new activities in the EEZ.

When will new legislation come into force?
The intention is to introduce the Exclusive Economic Zone Environmental Effects Bill into the House by the end of August, with the new legislation coming into force by the end of 2009.

What is the Exclusive Economic Zone?
The EEZ is the area of sea and seabed that extends from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore.

Does New Zealand have sovereignty over the EEZ?
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, New Zealand has full sovereignty in the territorial sea (0 to 12 nautical miles from the coast), largely equivalent to that over the land.

New Zealand has a more limited set of ‘sovereign rights’ in the EEZ. These rights are for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living and non-living resources of the EEZ.

Sovereign rights are subject to various conditions and obligations, such as international controls on marine transport and pollution, the right of any state to lay submarine pipelines and cables, and freedom of navigation.

What activities already happen in the EEZ?
The major activities already underway in the EEZ are fishing, transport, petroleum exploration and mining, scientific research, and laying of submarine cables and pipelines.

What types of activity might happen in the EEZ in the future?
The EEZ is an expensive and challenging place to carry out new activities due to the depth of water, exposed conditions, and distance from the shore. Future types of activity could include seabed mining, energy generation, aquaculture, and carbon capture and storage.

What is our extended continental shelf?
The ‘extended continental shelf’ is the area of continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limits of the EEZ.

In this area, New Zealand has exclusive sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring the continental shelf and exploiting its natural resources. These resources are limited to those found on or under the seabed – mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil, together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species – and do not include resources of the water and air columns above.

The seas above the extended continental shelf are international waters so – unlike in the EEZ – New Zealand has no special rights to the fisheries in this area or to regulate other activities such as shipping.

In April 2006, New Zealand applied to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to have the boundary of our extended continental shelf delineated in law. The Commission is currently considering New Zealand’s submission.


ENDS

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