Dispute over the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill has reignited with shots fired by Labour's fisheries spokesman Rino Tirikatene.
In an Environment Select Committee hearing on Thursday morning, director of Pew Charitable Trust Bronwen Golder and representatives from World Wildlife Fund and Forest & Bird spoke of the "last frontier of marine exploration" in urging support for the Bill.
The three parties have campaigned for eight years for the creation of the 620,000 square kilometre ocean sanctuary.
It would be the largest no-take marine reserve in the world, surrounding the Kermadec Islands out to 200 nautical miles.
Mr Tirikatene asked Ms Golder what gave Pew the authority to enter New Zealand's exclusive economic zone and determine Maori rights to fish.
"How can you be respectful when you are proposing the overriding of Maori fishing rights?
Ms Golder replied the protection proposed by Pew was supported by the majority of New Zealanders.
"With all due respect sir, I am a New Zealander, not a foreign imperialist."
Mr Tirikatene fired back: "Are you not funded by foreign NGOs?"
He said it was an affront to Tino Rangatiratanga that foreign NGOs can dictate to the New Zealand government and override Maori rights.
NIWA scientists opened the session with a slideshow illustrating the unique life on the Kermadec seafloor, including fish species that haven't yet been named.
The group opposing the proposed sanctuary say they support it in principle, but are calling for a number of changes, including renaming it the Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary to reflect its Maori name.
Te Ohu Kaimoana submitted to the environment select committee hearing with the support of 58 iwi across the country. The group's bringing court action against the Government for its failure to consult all iwi on the proposal.
The Government consulted two Northland iwi with interests in the Kermadecs area, but Te Ohu Kaimoana says the 1992 Fisheries Treaty settlement recognises the customary rights of all iwi.
Chairman of Te Ohu Kaimoana Jamie Tuuta said they wanted the Government to recognise the existing protection of the area, to maintain fishing rights from the 1992 Fisheries Treaty settlement and to keep iwi in the loop with the sanctuary's future management.
Mr Tuuta says the proposed bill not only disregards the 1992 settlement, but undermines the quota management system and its sustainability framework.
"We would go so far as to say it undermines the integrity of all settlements.
"A government that looks to recognise rights then a few years down the track extinguishes those rights, doesn't give much confidence for the future."
He said the proposed sanctuary could have been a "win-win situation" if Treaty partners had stood together and made the announcement rather than conducting a cursory consultation with iwi.