Kermadec ocean sanctuary: a 'dangerous' precedent for Maori rights?

Last updated 16:59 23/03/2016

John Key is unworried about legal action over Kermadec ocean sanctuary plans.

Dean Kozanic
Sir Tipene O'Regan was one of the architects of the fisheries settlement.
Will the Kermadec ocean sanctuary undermine both Maori rights and existing protection regimes?
Te Ohu Kaimoana Jamie Tuuta wants the Government to acknowledge their breach of the settlement, through legal proceedings.

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Maori are fighting to keep fishing in the Kermadecs and there are growing concerns they may have further battles with the Government.

Academic and Ngai Tahu elder Sir Tipene O'Regan says the Government's Kermadec ocean sanctuary was in principle "dangerous" to iwi fishing rights.

"Where does it stop?" he said.

"You can see the Auckland Islands fishery, the Southern Ocean fishery, the Ross Sea can see all those coming in for the same kind of treatment."

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Prime Minister John Key has shrugged off the legal challenge from Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Maori Fisheries Trust, which claims all iwi should have been consulted and the Government had no right to override an existing agreement.

Key has largely argued that iwi haven't fished in the area for 10 years and they could catch the species elsewhere.

But O'Regan backed the call for iwi to retain entitlements in the Kermadecs and elsewhere as set out in the 1992 Maori fisheries settlement.

O'Regan was one of the architects for negotiating the settlement more than a decade ago.

"Governments have very short memories," he said.

"The problem with iwi is they hang around, and they tend to have very long memories."


O'Regan says there is no issue of sustainability in the Kermadec fishery.

"The only fish that will be protected while they're in there are the pelagic fish which move through from the Pacific and on to the New Zealand coast."

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Those fish, such as tuna, could then be caught outside the sanctuary, removing protection the sanctuary provided: "It's like a low-speed zone on the highway."

New Zealand's quota management system was created to ensure sustainable use of fisheries resources.

Te Ohu Kaimoana chair Jamie Tuuta says the Government's approach undermined the existing sustainability management regime.

The Kermadec islands already have marine reserves around the area. They are also a a 'benthic protection area' which prevents bottom trawl fishing, so only long-line fishing goes on there which doesn't disturb the biodiversity on the sea floor.



Environment Minister Nick Smith said there was an argument "pushed by the fishing industry" that marine reserves don't need to exist.

"They don't like marine reserves. Well, I'm sorry, other New Zealanders do," he said.

The Quota Management System did not give the commercial fishing industry, "whether Maori or other", a monopoly over all New Zealand's ocean space.

"The fisheries settlement was always done in the context of the Government retaining the capacity to be able to create marine reserves.

"Of course, if you create a marine reserve it removes everybody's fishing rights."

Quota held by non-Maori would be affected in the same way, and the law was clear there wouldn't be compensation, he said.

The only argument the Minister could see was the Kermadec sanctuary was in the Exclusive Economic Zone rather than the Territorial sea.

"I would argue that the principle is the same."

New Zealand is a signatory to a UN international convention that sets a target of 10 per cent of marine space to be protected. The Kermadec sanctuary would take us from 0.4 per cent to 15 per cent.

Smith said only two iwi Te Aupouri and Ngati Kuri had rights to the area through their separate Treaty settlements.


As a courtesy, the Minister called both iwi and Te Ohu Kaimoana, to let them know the Prime Minister would make the announcement the next day at the United Nations conference.

"I do not claim, and have never claimed, that that was consultation."


Te Ohu Kaimoana have taken the Government to court. It was a "last resort" for them.

"We want a declaration that what the Government had undertaken is wrong," Tuuta said.

Although the Prime Minister has ruled out compensating iwi, Tuuta thought it could be "highly likely".

The problem was putting a price on "perpetual rights" of a whole indigenous people. Traditional models of compensation look at catch history as a basis, but in this case iwi hadn't developed the area, Tuuta said. 

"We'd probably want to get a better understanding of what that compensation package," he said.

But Tuuta said their stance was about ensuring fishing rights, not about cash payments.

- Stuff


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