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Executive summary

New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the area of sea and seabed that extends from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore. The EEZ has a wide range of biodiversity values and economic opportunities. The government wants to promote environmentally responsible access to EEZ resources while ensuring human impacts do not threaten the integrity of marine ecosystems.

Environmental effects in the EEZ are managed by sector-specific legislation, which creates the following problems:

  • gaps and inconsistencies in the operational control of environmental effects
  • unclear environmental outcomes against which activities and their effects should be assessed
  • uncertainty for investors about the regulatory environment
  • uncertainty about how the effects of activities on each other should be managed.

The pressure to improve the regulation of environmental effects will build over time as activities increase. There is a window of opportunity now to improve the regulatory regime before the need becomes urgent.

This paper proposes establishing new legislation to fill key gaps in EEZ environmental regulation and promote a consistent approach to environmental management across different statutes. The focus of the proposals is on the effects of activities not covered by existing statutes, such as seafloor disturbance by the installation of a structure, or by mining.

The proposed purpose of the legislation is “sustainable management”. The legislation will define, through rules, the thresholds for when activities can proceed without any need for assessment, and which activities require assessment and approval through an “EEZ consent”. The process for considering an EEZ consent would be scaled to the size of the proposal. There will also be the ability to make further rules that could apply to specific areas or activities, which will enable a more strategic development of rules over time as information improves.

Rules could either be developed to address existing gaps in the regulatory framework, or to apply more widely and cover activities currently regulated under existing laws, such as under the Fisheries Act 1996 and Maritime Transport Act 1994.

This paper proposes that Ministers or agencies with decision-making powers in the EEZ would be consulted when applications for EEZ consent are being considered and when rules are developed. The proposals aim to achieve consistency of decision-making across statutes and to address cumulative effects.

Authorisation of activities would involve limited allocation of the space or resources required to undertake the activity. The government intends that this allocation would only be necessary for the duration of the project, and only if environmental criteria are met.

This paper proposes that the effects of a proposed activity on existing activities be assessed and addressed. These could either be existing activities regulated under an existing law (e.g. fishing), or applications under this new regime for the same space or resource.

The EEZ is managed as a public commons, not as private property. Decisions on uses should be for the greatest national benefit. When one activity has a negative impact on another, efforts should be made to avoid or mitigate adverse effects when the application is considered. Your feedback is sought on whether redress should be considered when an activity may be displaced or negatively affected by the granting of an EEZ consent.

The appropriate form of legislation to deliver this regime depends on the final contents of the policy and the administrative requirements. It could involve amending existing legislation or establishing new legislation. The proposals are summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Summary of proposals

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