Delaware Bay (Wakapuaka) Estuary – a test case for public access

Solo fisher Jeff Holden returns from a successful early morning fish in Delaware, dependant on the safe estuary launch site

In 1863, the sailing ship Delaware ran aground about 30 km northeast of Nelson. The wreck occurred in a bay known as Wakapuaka.

Accounts of the incident often emphasise the heroism of five local Māori, including a woman named Hūria Mātenga, who helped the crew get ashore The wreck of the Delaware | NZHistory, New Zealand history online

Delaware Bay (Wakapuaka) also has a long history as a sheltered, safe allweather launch site for local commercial ventures, recreational fishing, boating, and diving.

The Bay’s estuary has been used for generations as an unconstructed natural sloping surface to launch and retrieve small boats. It is a safe option for those who launch at nearby Cable Bay and get caught out with prevailing conditions or for those who launch at Nelson but cannot safely return.

However, there is a standoff between the Nelson City Council (NCC), with local Iwi support, and the public’s right to launch and retrieve boats in an area free of cockle beds and burial grounds. This has led to the NCC taking the matter to the Environment Court, asserting that driving on the estuary to launch and retrieve boats is not a permitted activity under the Nelson Resource Management Plan.

Locals who object to this interpretation of the Plan have formed the Delaware Bay Access Group Inc. The Access Group has repeatedly raised with the NCC the issue of risk to public safety but have had no response.

Fish Mainland provided its support to the Access Group’s affidavit to the Environment Court from a recreational fisher perspective, specifically in relation to the importance of fishers’ ongoing access to the estuary since it is the only safe all-weather launch for small boats in the Nelson North Area. Several of Fish Mainland’s Board of Directors are familiar with the estuary and the very limited boat access available at Cable Bay. We share the Access Group’s concern that Cable Bay is very exposed to prevailing conditions, which can cause the launching and retrieving of small boats to be an extremely difficult and dangerous operation that can put public safety at risk. In fact, one of Fish Mainland’s Directors has had first-hand experience with the dangers in launching a small boat at Cable Bay. In 2002, amid launching, a rogue wave pulled his boat off the trailer; it was sunk and damaged.

All the Directors of Fish Mainland have extensive experience as boat owners or operators over many years, including recreational fishing, commercial fishing, merchant navy and yachting. We consider that the complete lack of recognition of the adverse safety factors resulting from the potential removal of safe launching in the estuary is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

In addition, it seems reasonable that if Cable Bay is permitted under the Plan as a natural sloping launching ramp, it follows that Delaware Bay (Wakapuaka) estuary should also be permitted for that purpose.

The NCC’s continued stance and apparent obfuscation on these matters, and related matters, appear to be for political reasons. If so, then the NCC’s legal action against the Access Group appears morally groundless, if not illegal, and therefore a wasteful use of ratepayers’ funds.

We firmly applauded the Access Group’s efforts to resolve all conflicts of interest and reach compromises from all sides to achieve the best public outcomes for the Delaware Bay (Wakapuaka) estuary. For this purpose, Fish Mainland sought local Iwi agreement to meet to discuss each side’s position on the matter. The Iwi refused our offer in favour of awaiting the Environment Court determination.

Fish Mainland maintains there is a better way to resolve opposing positions.

Please provide financial support for the Access Group in upholding access to the public foreshore.

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