Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary deal on the horizon
The Government is on the verge of striking a deal with Māori over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary as it negotiates with the Māori Fisheries Trust - Te Ohu Kaimoana.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson has now been called in to help broker a deal with Māori out of court.
Environment Minister Nick Smith has led the charge on the controversial sanctuary, which landed the Government in the High Court.
Te Ohu Kaimoana lodged legal proceedings claiming the Kermadec sanctuary would extinguish Māori fishing rights in the area.
Both ministers hosted a meeting with Te Ohu Kaimoana on Wednesday. It's understood Te Ohu Kaimoana is seeking an assurance that Māori fishing rights in the Kermadec area will not be expropriated.
Rick Witana, chairman of Northland iwi Te Aupouri, attended the meeting and is hopeful an amicable outcome will be reached.
"Expropriation of any rights is a breach of the 1992 [Treaty of Waitangi settlement] agreement," he says.
"So what we're doing is working with Te Ohu Kaimoana and the Government to see if we can remedy some of these issues that are coming up. We're in the process of doing that at the moment."
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has alluded to the potential of a deal being reached over the next few days.
She is set to attend the Our Ocean conference in Washington next week, which is where John Key made the announcement for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary just last year.
Ms Barry says she will provide an update on the sanctuary at the conference and is hoping the Government's disagreement with Te Ohu Kaimoana will have been solved by then.
"We will see what the status of that challenge is," she says.
"There are meetings going on all the time about it and I believe that the Minister for Treaty Settlements and the Minister for the Environment are meeting with various iwi representatives to discuss those.
"Of course I would hope that things can be resolved rather than go to court."
The Government initially secured the backing of two of Northland's iwi which hold mana whenua in the Kermadec area - Ngāti Kuri and Te Aupouri.
Both iwi have been invited by the Ministry for the Environment to attend the Our Ocean conference next week, the cost of which Ms Barry believes will be met by the Government.
Mr Witana says his attendance at the conference is conditional on the Government adequately acknowledging Māori fishing rights in the Kermadec.
He is expected to fly out on Monday, putting further time pressure on an agreement being reached.
"Te Aupouri supports the idea and the concept of a sanctuary. We think it's a great idea," he says.
"However, it's always been conditional on the fact that Māori rights, particularly fishing rights, should remain."
Both Dr Smith and Mr Finlayson declined to comment.