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Government urged to create ocean sanctuary

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/09/2016

© Hagen Hopkins/ Getty Images Leading environmental groups are urging the government not to lose its way over the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

The legislation that creates the 620,000 square kilometre sanctuary 1000 km north-east of New Zealand - one of the largest in the world - has been put on hold.

Before it goes any further, the government must find a solution to the impasse caused by the Maori Fisheries Trust's demand that iwi fishing rights are upheld in the sanctuary area - despite the fact that Maori have never fished there.

Forest and Bird, the Environmental Defence Society, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund have issued a joint statement expressing their concerns about the situation.

"The law is very clear - along with the ability to exclusively manage fisheries within our economic zone, the government has a right and an international obligation to create marine protected areas," said EDS chairman Gary Taylor.

"Looking after our oceans is not a breach of fishing rights."

Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman says agreeing that fisheries rights and compensation are needed even when no fishing is taking place would set a dangerous precedent.

"It would make it extremely difficult to set up a network of marine protected areas that our oceans so badly need."

Labour is reserving its right to withdraw support for the legislation if the government doesn't sort out the Maori issue, which has upset Forest and Bird.

"We are concerned that Labour seems to be backing away from its commitment to create the sanctuary because it sees a political opportunity to attack the government," said spokesman Kevin Hackwell.

The WWF's Alex Smith says legitimate treaty issues have been raised.

"We support ongoing dialogue but we shouldn't let TOKM (Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Maori Fisheries Trust) and the wider fishing industry derail marine protection."

The next step in solving the problem will be negotiations between the government and the Maori Party.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is leading the government's side, and says it could take months to sort out.

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