Marine management in New Zealand is split amongst multiple management agencies with overlapping roles and responsibilities as set out in the table. The role and responsibility of each agency in the marine environment is provided in more detail under the links below. Further detail regarding the agecies roles and responsibilities outside of the marine environment is provided in the Statutory bodies section of the website. 

Minister and Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation was established by the Conservation Act 1987. Its primary role is to manage Crown-owned conservation land and to protect and rehabilitate endangered indigenous species and habitats. The Department is also tasked with advocating for the conservation of natural and historic resources generally, amongst other things. The definition of ‘natural resources’ in the Conservation Act is very wide and includes living organisms, habitats, ecosystems, landscapes, landform, and geological features.

The New Zealand Conservation Authority provides oversight of the Department’s work and gives advice to the Minister and the Director-General of Conservation.

 The Minister and Department of Conservation play a significant role in the protection of marine habitats and species. The Minister approves the establishment of marine reserves (with the concurrence of the Ministers for Primary Industries and of Transport) under the Marine Reserves Act 1971, and marine mammal sanctuaries under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. Once created, these areas are managed by the Department of Conservation. The Department administers the Wildlife Act 1953 which provides protection for seabirds and some marine species. The Department is also involved, in conjunction with the Ministry for Primary Industries, in managing the impacts of fishing activity on protected marine species such as dolphins, sea lions, seals, and seabirds.

 The Minister of Conservation has a specific role in the management of coastal land and the territorial sea under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The Minister developed the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS) which guides, and in some cases directs, the planning and decision-making functions of councils within the ‘coastal environment’. The landward extent of this area is not defined in the RMA, but it includes the coastal marine area which extends from mean high water springs 4704 to the outer edge of the territorial sea, and land near the coast that is influenced by the sea.

 The Minister approves regional coastal plans to the extent that they apply to the coastal marine area. The Department of Conservation is the unitary authority for the Subantarctic and Kermadec Islands, so is responsible for writing and implementing the regional coastal plans for these marine areas. The Department may also become involved in making submissions on plans and resource consents under the RMA as part of its advocacy role and to support the Minister’s wider coastal management responsibilitiesMinister and Ministry for Primary Industries 

The Ministry for Primary Industries was established in 2012 as a result of a merger between the former Ministry of Fisheries and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The Minister and Ministry manage fisheries resources under the Fisheries Act 1996, which include fish, shellfish, seaweed, and other aquatic life. The Minister determines a wide range of matters including what quantity of fish can be caught and what controls are placed on where, when and how fishing is to be undertaken. The Ministry supports the Minister’s decision-making role by commissioning research, managing stakeholder inputs, and providing advice. The Ministry also enforces fisheries regulations.

 The Ministry is also the Government’s principal advisor on aquaculture. The Minister plays a role in the allocation of space for marine farms. This is through determining requests for stays on new applications and for aquaculture applications to be processed and heard together. The Minister has the power to amend aquaculture provisions in regional coastal plans through regulation.The Minister also undertakes the Undue Adverse Effects test, which assesses whether a proposed marine farm will have an undue adverse effect on fishing.

 The Minister for Primary Industries (and the Minister of Transport) has a concurrence role in deciding whether or not proposed marine reserves should be established under the Marine Reserves Act 1971. The Minister applies the decision-making criteria in section 5 of the Marine Reserves Act 1971. For fisheries, this includes determining whether declaring the area a marine reserve would interfere unduly with commercial fishing or recreational usage in the area or a public interest test (for customary fishing interests). If concurrence is not provided, the proposed marine reserve cannot be created.

 The Ministry for Primary Industries is also charged with leadership of the New Zealand biosecurity system under the Biosecurity Act 1993. This includes preventing new organisms from entering the country and eradicating or controlling them once they have arrived. Marine biosecurity is an important part of the Ministry’s work, including: 

  • Leading New Zealand’s response to marine biosecurity internationally;
  • Developing biofouling guidelines;
  • Enacting border measures on ballast and biofouling;
  • Developing guidance on in-water cleaning of hulls;
  • Surveillance to detect new incursions of unwanted species;
  • Funding the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s (NIWA) Marine Invasive Taxonomic Service which is tasked with identifying new species arriving into the country;
  • Facilitating marine pest management partnerships with councils and industry
  • Providing marine hygiene behaviour change programmes; and
  • Establishing how to manage the way marine pests enter the country.

Minister of Energy and Resources and Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment

The Minister of Energy and Resources manages the allocation of minerals resources within New Zealand’s marine area. The Minister is supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which, through New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, processes prospecting, exploration and mining permits, collects royalties, and enforces mining regulations.

Minister and Ministry for the Environment 

The Ministry for the Environment was established under the Environment Act 1986. It is the principal advisor to the government on environmental matters within New Zealand and on international matters that affect the country’s environment. It is responsible for developing environmental policy and assists with legislative amendments. 

In the marine area, the Minister is responsible for recommending regulations promulgated under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 to the Governor-General. 

 The Ministry also has responsibilities for environmental reporting. The Environmental Reporting Act 2015 requires the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand to publish a report on one of five environmental domains (air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine) every six months and a synthesis report (providing an analysis of cross-domain trends and interactions) every three years. Under each domain, they report on three main types of information: pressures, states and impacts. The Our marine environment 2016, The Environment Aotearoa 2015 and the 2014 Air Domain Report have been produced using the new framework.

 Environmental Protection Authority 

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is a crown entity established in 2011 under the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011. It is governed by a Board whose members are appointed by the Minister for the Environment. The EPA is responsible for processing consents for matters of national significance under the RMA, the management of the Emissions Trading Scheme, and the regulation of hazardous substances and new organisms. The EPA also has a key role in the marine area under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 as the agency responsible for determining marine consent applications.

Maritime New Zealand 

Maritime New Zealand is governed by an independent board appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister of Transport. It manages shipping and marine pollution under the Maritime Transport Act 1994. The management of waste dumping and discharge from ships and offshore installations in the EEZ and continental shelf, which was previously undertaken by Maritime New Zealand, has recently been transferred to the EPA.

Maritime New Zealand develops, on behalf of the Minister of Transport, and enforces marine protection rules aimed at preventing pollution incidents. It maintains the country’s marine oil spill response strategy. It also supports New Zealand’s engagement with the International Maritime Organisation.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga 

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (Heritage NZ), previously named the Historic Places Trust, is an independent body established under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014.

Heritage NZ is charged with identifying, recording, and protecting historic heritage areas throughout New Zealand including sites within the marine area. Heritage NZ maintains a register of historic and wāhi tapu places and has a direct consenting role in relation to archaeological sites. Heritage NZ also directly manages some historic places and buildings.

The Act also continues the Māori Heritage Council, which advises Heritage NZ and advocates for Māori heritage issues.

Regional Councils 

Regional councils are democratically elected bodies constituted under the Local Government Act 2002. There are 11 regional councils throughout the country whose boundaries broadly coincide with water catchment areas. In addition, there are six unitary authorities, which carry out the role of both regional authority and territorial authority. 4705

Regional councils have a broad role in managing the marine environment through their jurisdiction under the RMA over both catchments and activities in the coastal marine area. The scope of the RMA is broad and it encompasses the environmental impacts of all activities on land and within the coastal marine area, except where they are specifically excluded. The main exclusion in the marine area is the taking, allocation, or enhancement of fisheries resources for the purpose of managing fishing or fisheries resources controlled under the Fisheries Act 1996. 4706  Council management of the marine environment under the RMA is overseen by the Minister of Conservation and Minister for the Environment.

Regional councils prepare regional policy statements and plans under the RMA, which can have a major impact on the way the marine environment is managed.  

Regional policy statements provide an overview of regionally significant issues. Regional coastal plans apply to the coastal marine area and sometimes set out objectives and policies relating to coastal land. Regional plans address catchment issues such as run-off into the marine area. 

Regional councils are consent authorities for coastal permits, which apply to activities within the coastal marine area. They also determine in the first instance water and discharge permits within catchments, and these can address run-off from land into the marine area amongst other things.

Regional councils play a role in biosecurity management under the Biosecurity Act 1993. Historically this role has been primarily on land with less involvement in the marine area. More recently, however, councils have taken on a stronger marine biosecurity role. For example, the Northland Regional Council has developed a marine regional pest management strategy under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and actively manages marine biosecurity. The Southland Regional Council is developing a regional marine pathway plan and has led a significant marine response in Fiordland. The Top of the South Marine Biosecurity Partnership has three councils contributing to the funding of a regional coordinator to lead a significant programme of work. 

Some regional councils manage regional parks which border the sea under the Reserves Act 1977 and other legislation. Regional council activities and expenditure are guided by long term council community plans prepared under the Local Government Act 2002.

 Territorial Authorities 

Territorial authorities, which include both city and district councils, are also democratically elected bodies constituted under the Local Government Act 2002. There are 61 territorial authorities operating throughout the country. In addition, there are six unitary authorities, which carry out the role of both regional authority and territorial authority. 

These bodies have a more limited role in marine management under the RMA, being primarily focused on land subdivision, use, and development. This role is significant, however, land development can have major impacts on the marine environment, particularly through generating sediment and contaminated run-off. Territorial authorities prepare district plans under the RMA and make first-instance decisions on subdivision and land use consents.

Many territorial authorities manage coastal reserve land and esplanade reserves under the Reserves Act 1977. Similar to regional councils, the activities and expenditure of territorial authorities is guided by long-term council community plans prepared under the Local Government Act 2002. These plans can have a significant impact on the marine environment as they determine the levels of expenditure on infrastructure such as stormwater and wastewater treatment facilities. The Local Government Act 2002 also empowers territorial authorities to implement bylaws to regulate the management of stormwater and wastewater systems. 

Iwi and hapū

Iwi and hapū are increasingly applying contemporary forms of kaitiakitanga in the coastal environment through greater involvement in management decision-making. The meaning and implementation of kaitiakitanga is described in more depth in the kaitiakitanga section.  As well as engaging in kaitiakitanga through statutory processes and co-governance agreements, iwi and hapū are becoming major marine resource managers in their own right through the fisheries settlement, the aquaculture settlement, and individual iwi settlements.


Areas of managemet focus

Key Legislation

Minister and Department of Conservation

-  Conservation of  natural and historic resources
-  Protected species
-  Marine protection
-  Coastal management 

-  Conservation Act 1987
-  Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978
-  Marine Reserves Act 1971
-  Resource Management Act 1991
-  Wildlife Act 1952
-  Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011
-  Reserves Act 1977
-  Fisheries Act 1996 and Fisheries Act 1983 (Residual Provisions)

Minister and Ministry for Primary Industries

-  Fisheries
-  Aquaculture
-  Biosecurity

-  Fisheries Act 1996
-  Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992
-  Fisheries (Quota Operations Validation) Act 1997
-  Māori Fisheries Act 2004
-  Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004
-  Biosecurity Act 1993

Minister of Energy and Resources and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

Allocation of minerals and petroleum resources 

Minister and Ministry for the Environment

Environmental policy development, including EEZ Act regulations

-  Resource Management Act 1991
-  Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects ) Act 2012
Environmental Reporting Act 2015

Environmental Protection Authority

Specified activities in the EEZ and extended continental shelf including minerals and petroleum activities

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects ) Act 2012

Maritime New Zealand

-  Shipping and marine pollution
-  Oil spill preparedness and response

Maritime Transport Act 1994

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga 

Protection of historic heritage places

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014

Regional Councils

-  Catchment and marine management (excluding fisheries) to 12 nautical miles
-  Regional marine pest management

-  Resource Management Act 1991
-  Local Government Act 2002
-  Reserves Act 1977
-  Biosecurity Act 1993

Territorial authorities

Land use and subdivision 

-  Resource Management Act 1991
-  Local Government Act 2002
-  Reserves Act 1977

Iwi and hapū

All coastal and marine resources

- All of the above legislation
- Co-management agreements 

  1. The term ‘mean high water springs’ is not defined in the RMA. The New Zealand Nautical Almanac defines it as ‘The average of the levels of each pair of successive high waters during that period of about 24 hours in each semi-lunation (approximately every 14 days), when the range of the tide is greatest (Spring Range).


  3. RMA section 30(2)


Last updated at 11:03AM on February 8, 2018