Protecting our Economic Exclusion Zone

The recent news that the Royal New Zealand Navy intercepted a Chinese-flagged trawler in New Zealand waters illegally fishing for tuna was a reminder of the need to protect our Economic Exclusion Zone. Whilst the Chinese officials have been co-operating in this particular case, it raises questions about our ability to deal with the wide range of potential hazards and risks in the E.E.Z. and what can be done about them.

The New Zealand Economic Exclusion Zone is vast and covers an area between 4.0 and 4.3 million km². It covers the underwater continental shelf, as well as tracts of seabed that includes Tokelau, Niue, the Cook Islands and the Ross Dependency, collectively known as the Realm of New Zealand. It also includes offshore islands that are considered to be a part of New Zealand, such as the Chatham, Snares, Auckland and Kermadec, Bounty, Antipodes and Campbell Islands.

The New Zealand Economic Exclusion Zone covers an area with an abundance of mineral wealth as well as significant oil and natural gas deposits. The New Zealand Economic Exclusion Zone Act 2013 covers the types of activities that are managed within the E.E.Z., which extends between 12 and 200 miles (20 and 320 kilometres)off the coast. Whilst most of this activity covers economic activities, there are also provisions for dealing with illegal dumping, discharge of sediments from extraction and burials at sea.

It is a marine environment that is highly treasured by New Zealanders and respected by international researchers, environmental groups and development groups alike. Because of this there is a fine line to walk between allowing the development of resources and the protection of the marine ecosystem, its values and value to New Zealand. The provision of the means to protect our waters from spills of heavy oil or other toxics in our water has been a source of contention in Parliament.

Proposals to explore deposits in zones off the Canterbury coast have been challenged because of their local proximity to significant fisheries, tourist attractions, but also their proximity to large active faultlines. Whilst none of these projects have yet been given consent, concerns at how the application process has been run and alleged attempts at thwarting public input by the applicants, including StatOil have elicited complaints of interference in our democratic processes. This combined with the 2013 passage of a contentious law called the Crown Mineral (Crown land and permitting)Act 2013, without public input, that enabled the Navy to act as a law enforcement agency has raised concerns about the adherence to our international human rights obligations regarding freedom of assembly.

Another concern that has yet to be fully addressed is the dumping of illegal catches of fish by trawlers operating (legally and illegally in our E.E.Z.). Despite the prosecution of the senior crew of a fishing trawler owned by Sajo Oyang, the sinking of another in adverse weather and the arrest of a third for illegal activities and defying a court order not to leave port, all of which received significant media coverage in New Zealand, illegal activities continue to occur at sea.

So, how can the authorities conduct adequate surveillance and enforcement across an area that is 15 times larger than New Zealand’s land mass?


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