Labour warns legal challenges could be on the horizon over a lack of consultation on the new Kermadec ocean sanctuary, but the Environment Minister says stakeholders backed the project.
Yesterday Prime Minister John Key announced plans for the 620,000sqkm sanctuary, making it one of the most fully protected ecosystems in the world.
The area, 1000km northeast of New Zealand encompasses the existing Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve and will now include the longest chain of underwater volcanoes and the second deepest ocean trench.
But Labour's fisheries spokesman Rino Tirikatene believes the Government could have sailed into troubled waters because of a lack of consultation with iwi.
"Labour welcomes the establishment of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary but we do have concerns the Government’s carefree approach is denying iwi involvement and could lead to legal challenges."
He says Te Ohu Kaimoana hold a significant quota for Maori in an area now within the sanctuary, but weren't consulted which is in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi.
"Key stakeholders, including iwi, should have been part of the conversation about the Sanctuary before the announcement was made.
"Closing a fishing area isn't like closing a paddock. You can't just move stock elsewhere and say that everyone is satisfied," he says.
But Environment Minister Nick Smith says the claim is a red herring and there is "strong support" for the sanctuary.
"Ngati Kuri and Te Aupouri – the two northern iwi with connections to the Kermadec Islands – both indicated their strong support for the new sanctuary prior to its announcement. These two relevant iwi have been pushing for the sanctuary proposal and so Labour's criticism that they were not consulted does not make sense," Dr Smith says.
Official records show Te Ohu Kaimoana hadn't fished in the area for the past five years and were also told of the decision before it was announced.
Dr Smith says all parties will get to make submissions on the proposal when it is introduced to Parliament.
The amount of fishing in the area, within New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, accounts for 0.004 percent of the country's total commercial catch of 449,000 tonnes.