Kermadec Sanctuary hotly debated

8:42 pm on 2 June 2016

A fiery exchange over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary erupted at a Parliamentary select committee today, as some groups continue to challenge the proposal.

The plans would see the area around the Kermadec Islands permanently converted into a marine life sanctuary, covering more than 600,000 square kilometres around the islands north-east of New Zealand and protecting 15 percent of the country's ocean environment.

But some fishing groups and iwi felt they weren't properly consulted over the proposal, which would ban all fishing in the area.

A school of fish trails a Galapagos shark near the Kermadec Islands.

A school of fish trails a Galapagos shark near the Kermadec Islands. Photo: Malcolm Francis / NIWA

Debate over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill heated up at today's local government and environment committee, with Labour MP Rino Tirikatene accusing Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) of prioritising the ocean sanctuary over iwi rights.

"It's an affront to the tino rangatiratanga of Māori that internationally-funded NGOs can come to dictate to our government the creation of sanctuaries which might be good in purpose, but they're overriding Māori rights", Mr Tirikatene said.

But the director of the Pew Charitable Trust, Bronwyn Golder, said there had been extensive consultation with iwi about the proposed sanctuary.

A Colmar Brunton poll conducted in May showed 86 percent of Māori supported the idea.

Around 20 tonnes of fish with a value of over $160,000 are caught in the area annually, including several species of tuna, which migrate to the islands for four months each year and can't be found in other New Zealand waters during that time.

Fisheries Inshore Limited's chief executive Jeremy Helson said fishing groups should be properly compensated and hinted at ulterior motives behind the conversion.

"The decision of the government to create a no-take zone was not for the purpose of sustainability, but to garner international recognition," Dr Helson said.

Coral in part of the area that would be covered by the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Coral in part of the area that would be covered by the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Photo: Malcolm Clarke / NIWA

Both the New Zealand Fishing Association and Māori fisheries trust Te Ohu Kaimoana have launched legal proceedings against the government over the sanctuary.

Minister for the Environment Nick Smith said he was open to discussions.

"I think the vast bulk of New Zealanders are committed to the view that just as we have national parks on land, we also need to set aside areas of the ocean," he said.

"I'm very keen to try and find a way through some of the challenges that there have been around the sanctuary."

The committee is due to report back to Parliament in August.

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