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Maui's dolphin Treaty claim rejected

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 2/05/2016

Department of Conservation, New Zealand/CC BY-SA 3.0 © Creative Commons Department of Conservation, New Zealand/CC BY-SA 3.0 A claim by two North Island hapu that their Treaty rights have been breached by a lack of protection for the endangered Maui's dolphin has been rejected by the Waitangi Tribunal.

Ngati Te Wehi and Ngati Tahinga, based around Aotea Harbour in the Waikato, claimed the government's most recent plan for managing endangered animals did not give enough regard to the value of the marine mammal as a taonga, or treasure, and failed to adequately protect the species from extinction.

The hapu argued the Crown's strategy - revised in 2013 - did not go far enough, and ignored evidence from several international fishing research groups which had called for a total ban on nets and trawlers within the dolphin's habitat.

In declining the claim, the tribunal said while the hapu's status as guardians of the dolphin deserved special recognition, it did not find the Crown's plan for managing the decline of the animal lacked good faith or was unreasonable.

"The prospect that Maui's dolphin may become extinct in the next decade or so should worry us all," Presiding Officer David Ambler said.

"However the Waitangi Tribunal's function is not to pass judgment on the decline of an endangered species, but to assess whether the Crown's policy in relation to Maui's dolphin is in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi."

The tribunal also found the Crown also owed Treaty duties to Maori with fisheries interests in the area.

Last year, researchers found the dolphin's population had dropped to below 50 and could become extinct within 15 years if more protections weren't added.

The Maui's dolphin Treaty claim was part of historical 280-claim report that is still being prepared but was pushed forward due to risk of extinction of the species.

The tribunal did not look at the historical reasons of the species decline.

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