Environmental / Resource Management

Exclusive Economic Zone To Become Yet More Exclusive

New Zealand's substantial exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is increasingly being used for much more than the traditional activities of fisheries and transport.

EEZ and continental shelf

The EEZ includes the area of sea, seabed, and soil from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore. The Resource Management Act 1991 regulates natural resource management activities in the territorial sea out to 12 nautical miles. This leaves activities carried out in the EEZ unregulated (with the exception of fisheries and maritime transport), leaving New Zealand's oceans open to abuse. This problem is compounded by the fact that the New Zealand continental shelf extends beyond the existing 200 nautical mile boundary of the EEZ.

The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill (Bill), introduced to Parliament on 24 August 2011, seeks to fill the gaps in the environmental management regime in the EEZ. The activities that the Bill covers include seabed mining, some aspects of petroleum activities, energy generation, carbon capture and storage, and marine farming.

What the Bill does

The purpose of the Act is to achieve a balance between the protection of the environment and economic development in relation to activities in the EEZ and on the continental shelf. It does so by setting up a consenting regime for specified activities involving the seabed, and waters of the EEZ with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on applications for marine consents. Consents will not be required for fishing activities covered under the Fisheries Act 1996, for activities relating to waste disposal regulated under the Maritime Transport Act 1994, or to certain existing mining activities. There are transitional provisions for other existing activities.

Activities will be classified as permitted, discretionary, or prohibited by regulations made on the recommendation of the Minister, and discretionary activities will require a marine consent.

The Bill requires decision-makers to:

  • take specified matters into account in making decisions relating to the making of Regulations, and deciding the extent of adverse effects on existing interests when making decisions on applications for marine consents;
  • take a cautious approach in decision-making if information available is uncertain or inadequate; and
  • ensure the adverse effects of activities on the environment are avoided, remedied, or mitigated.

Matters that decision makers must take into account under the Bill are:

  • the adverse effects on the environment of all activities undertaken in an area of the EEZ or the continental shelf, including the effects of activities not regulated under the Act;
  • the economic well-being of New Zealand;
  • the efficient use and development of natural resources;
  • the effects of activities on existing interests;
  • the effects on human health that may arise from adverse effects on the environment;
  • the nature and effect of other marine management regimes;
  • the protection of the biological diversity and integrity of marine species, ecosystems, and processes; and
  • the protection of rare and vulnerable ecosystems and the habitats of threatened species.

What happens next

Subject to the election results, the Bill is expected to be passed in the first half of next year. In the interim the Government has established voluntary measures to manage the risks posed by petroleum exploration already underway or due to start. These voluntary measures include the industry providing environmental impact assessments to the EPA.

The Bill has been referred to the Local Government & Environment Select Committee. To view the Bill click here.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.


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