Kermadec sanctuary undermines settlement process, Te Ohu Kaimoana's Tuuta says

A cabinet paper from Environment Minister Nick Smith last September estimated the annual value of fisheries in the region to be about $165,000 from a 20.1 million tonne catch.

The government's proposal to create a 62,00sq km ocean sanctuary in the Kermadec region undermines the integrity of Treaty of Waitangi settlements in expropriating Maori fishing rights, Te Ohu Kaimoana chairman Jamie Tuuta says.

At the UN General Assembly last year, Prime Minister John Key unveiled the proposal to create the sanctuary, which would span about 15% of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone and preserve habitats for the area's 39 different species of seabirds, 35 species of whales and dolphins, three species of endangered turtles and thousands of species of fish. Among the commercial impacts of creating the zone would be the prohibition of commercial and recreational fishing and related tourism and banning of resource prospecting, exploration and mining.

Speaking to submissions on legislation enabling the zone, Mr Tuuta told Parliament's local government and environment committee the decision was in complete disregard for the 1992 fisheries settlement by stepping on the recognition of customary rights to both commercial and non-commercial rights to protect and develop fisheries in the area.

"The bill as proposed undermines the integrity of the 1992 settlement, and we would go further to say it undermines the integrity of all settlements," Mr Tuuta said. "This is a matter of extreme importance – it's 15% of the EEZ and has the potential to create quite a negative precedent in iwi circles – this could be the thin end of the wedge. I tend to think about it as a sledgehammer where a minister unilaterally takes decisions to extinguish rights."

A cabinet paper from Environment Minister Nick Smith last September estimated the annual value of fisheries in the region to be about $165,000 from a 20.1 million tonne catch. That's a fraction of New Zealand's annual fishing exports of $1.44 billion, which the paper says "reinforces that although the area is 15 percent of New Zealand's EEZ, there is currently very little viable commercial fishing."

Mr Tuuta disagreed with commentary that the area held little value, saying Maori always held the view fisheries would be developed in the region.

He criticised the government's consultation with Maori, saying his predecessor, Matiu Rei, received a call the night before the prime minister's announcement and, had the appropriate talks been held, an appropriate deal could have been reached with iwi supporting the sanctuary.

In a separate submission, Aotearoa Fisheries chief executive Carl Carrington told politicians the undermining of quota holders' rights weighed on the company's capacity and appetite for investment and undermines the integrity of the quota management system "which is at the heart of the sustainability management New Zealand's fisheries.

"AFL is concerned the bill is an indication of how the government intends to approach implementation of its marine protected area proposal, and the operational review of fisheries management systems being done by the Minister for Primary Industries, both of which will have wide-ranging impacts on the fishing industry," Carrington said. "The precedent set by the bill and the government's refusal to negotiate is so concerning that AFL has joined with other fishing companies in court action in an attempt to encourage the government to engage in good faith negotiations."

(BusinessDesk)

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