A momentous day for New Zealand’s marine biodiversity, for all the wrong reasons

Scallop bed in Ōtata / The Noises
An empty tipa / scallop bed at Ōtata / The Noises. Photo: Shaun Lee.

The Mussel Reef Restoration Trust (MRRT) as part of the Revive Our Gulf (ROG) project supports the decision announced today by the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, Hon. David Parker to use emergency powers to close the two remaining Coromandel tipa / scallop fisheries near Little Barrier / Te Hauturu-o-Toi and in the Colville channel.

Whilst it’s reassuring to see the Minister using emergency powers, it’s also a deeply distressing situation. The use of emergency powers and total closure of the fishery equates to mismanagement considering the purpose of the Fisheries Act is to ensure sustainability of fisheries resources.

The clarion calls have been loud over many years, and the question should be asked, what must we learn from this momentous decision?

Alongside others, MRRT has publicly expressed support for a full closure of the fishery for some time. In February this year, Ngāti Manuhiri laid a customary rāhui over these scallop beds. The Minister did not back up the customary rāhui with a temporary closure under section 186A of the Fisheries Act, and Ngāti Manuhiri kaitiaki have since spent days out on Te Moananui ā Toi with NIWA monitoring the beds to provide further information, ultimately leading to this emergency closure.

Overfishing, sedimentation run-off, and climate change are all contributing to the declining state of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. This summer’s predicted marine heatwave will further threaten the Gulf’s world-renowned biodiversity.

We can’t let tipa / scallops go the same way as kūtai / green-lipped mussels.

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park once had over 600 sq. km of sub-tidal, soft-sediment mussel reefs – over 500 sq. km in the Firth of Thames and Waitematā harbour alone. 

From 1910-1965 these reefs were all fished out for consumption – until the fishery completely collapsed. Today, sub-tidal kūtai / green-lipped mussel beds are functionally extinct, and the same species is farmed extensively in various places in the Hauraki Gulf. 

MRRT as part of the Revive Our Gulf project, and along with the projects’ Tangata Whenua partners, are doing the expensive and challenging work of trying to restore mussel reefs in the Hauraki Gulf. This includes trying to crack the code to learn how we support kūtai / green-lipped mussels to regenerate naturally. It’s not a foregone conclusion and protecting our wild marine biodiversity is critical. 

Responding once biodiversity is on the verge of collapse is not alone appropriate to the scale of the crisis. We also require our Government leaders to set ambitious targets for the protection and restoration of biodiversity. 

The Minister’s decision comes at the same time as the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) is underway in Montreal, which is putting the global biodiversity crisis in the spotlight and calling on leaders to agree a new set of goals to halt and reverse nature loss.

To revitalise the Hauraki Gulf the Government must listen to its Treaty Partners and communities and enact marine protections to enable passive and active restoration. Faster action is required to move the Government’s Revitalising the Gulf marine protection proposals into legislation to arrest the decline of our Gulf.

MRRT supports today’s decision and urges the Minister to initiate a review of what the Government should have done, and when, to avoid this situation. 


The opinions expressed in this media release are those of the MRRT backed up by science from the Institute of Marine Science UoA. This media release does not reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy or the Revive Our Gulf Tangata Whenua partners.

More info:

Read our February 2022 submission on the closure