Maori hint at interest in whaling

A statutory Maori body is hinting it wants the right to hunt whales.

The Maori Fisheries Trust, Te Ohu Kaimoana in its annual report today also criticised advocates who want a marine sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands and claims that if they are forced to stop using low-wage Asian labour Maori will lose $80 million from the value of their fishery.

CEO Peter Douglas said the trust had been attending the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings for six years.

"It does, however, remain a concern for us that indigenous communities around the world do not have food security in relation to the sustainable harvest of various whale species given the highly political and polarised nature of the IWC," Mr Douglas says.

In October the Green Party's Metiria Turei said the trust only paid lip service to the anti-whaling movement.

"Despite claims to oppose whaling Te Ohu Kaimoana has previously hosted commercial whaling organisations and even prepared and presented papers on the economics and trade in whaling," she said.

Under the Maori Fisheries Act, it holds iwi shareholding in Aotearoa Fisheries Ltd which in turn owns Maori's 50 per cent share in Sealord. Until 2005 Sealord's other owner, Japan's Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd owned the Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Ltd. It no longer owns it.

Douglas said the trust had "been keeping an eye on the development of a proposal" to establish a large marine reserve around the Kermadecs, north of the North Island.

"The proposal seems unnecessary given the existing protections and the pristine nature of the area despite the fact that fishing has been carried out for at least 50 years."

Trust chairman Matiu Rei attacked reporting around the use of foreign charter vessels (FCVs) which use low-paid Asian labour to fish Maori quota.

"There has been a range of misleading messages given to people in power and to the media, and some of these messages are against iwi," he said.

"If successful, the campaign (this originated as a commercial campaign advanced by certain members of the fishing industry) will drive down the value of the iwi fishing quota and impact directly on the income iwi receive each year from their quota."

Rei said $80 million could be wiped off the value of the Maori Fisheries Settlement if FCVs are prohibited in New Zealand. The settlement was worth around $700 million.

"We believe that FCVs are a necessity for iwi quota holders to get the full value from their deepwater holdings; it is imperative the industry is not prevented from using these vessels in the future."

Iwi could not fish the quotas without FCVs.

The trust did not support the mistreatment of workers.

"We believe that if allegations are proved, then the companies perpetrating such abuses must be held to account. What is unfortunate and damaging for iwi businesses is that the allegations against one Korean fishing company are being used by industry competitors, certain individuals with agendas, and the unions, as a reason to ban all FCVs from this country's fishing industry."

Douglas said FCVs were fishing Maori quota for high-volume, low-value species such as squid, barracouta, jack mackerel and southern blue whiting.

He feared the Government will in February ban FCVs.

"If that was to occur, there is a real possibility that those low value species will not be harvested, resulting in a loss of value and income to iwi organisations."