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DOC consultation “turning into a farce”

Consultation by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to create a huge Marine Protection Area off the east coast of the South Island is “turning into a farce”, according to Kate Hesson, Executive Officer of the Otago Rock Lobster Industry Association (ORLIA).

The consultation process was announced on 17 February and is due to close on 17 April.

“First, I wrote to Lou Sanson on 18 February pointing out that the industry has been massively impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, and asking for a postponement while we all deal with that market shock,” she said. “Despite following up again this week, all I’ve had from Mr Sanson is radio silence.”

Ms Hesson also submitted an Official Information Act request for information about how DOC arrived at its proposal. “This is critical if we are going to be able to make submissions that could make a difference. But DOC is now stonewalling by saying they might refuse the request or make us pay for it.”

She is also critical of DOC for not organising public meetings to answer questions about the proposal. “This is a massive change that could affect recreational and commercial fishers up and down the coast for generations to come. But they’re not doing anything to inform the public. It’s almost as if they don’t want anyone to know about it. They are also pre-determining what our submissions might be by prescribing questions in an online form. The alternative is to post our submissions to Wellington - and we all know it takes days for post to even be cleared from Dunedin by NZ Post.”

Ms Hesson also pointed out that the consultation period covers Easter, Otago and Southland anniversary days plus school holidays. “Busy people are being required to put their work and family lives on hold to meet an arbitrary timetable set by DOC’s head office. Given that Cabinet considered this issue way back in May last year, you have to ask why it’s got urgent all of a sudden.”

“My concern is that some people might think that this whole issue is a done deal politically, and that there is no point in pointing out any problems. I think we need to make sure we get it right, rather than just get it fast.”

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