Māori group says more work to be done on Kermadec Sanctuary as Chris Hipkins expresses disappointment

The question mark that's been hanging over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary for eight years has pretty much turned into a full stop. 

Iwi and the Crown were close to an agreement but they've fallen out despite significant changes. 

The proposal would've seen 620,000 square kilometres of sea around the Kermadec Islands be classified as a sanctuary. But it's looking unlikely to ever happen. 

It's an underwater paradise that's been causing division on land for nearly eight years. 

This sealife came incredibly close to getting a whole new layer of legal protection this week but iwi walked away.

"We have an interest in that particular area," said Rangimarie Hunia from Te Ohu Kaimoana. "We would expect the Crown would be a great partner and do that with us, not at us."

A hui of 45 iwi representatives was held in the capital, hosted by Te Oho Kaimoana - the Māori Fisheries Trust - and all but three of them voted against the latest proposal. 

"Iwi want the ability to be able to craft that for ourselves. By us, for us, with us, for the world. And that hasn't been given enough emphasis."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said: "Obviously, we are disappointed." 

The Crown had made some compromises. 

It would be renamed the Ngā Whatu-a-Māui Ocean Sanctuary; they'd lift the ban on iwi seeking compensation; its governance would be controlled by Māori, not DoC, and named Te Kahui, which would be given $40m to fund a 20-year scientific study of the sanctuary.

There'd also be a fishery review after 10 years and the whole sanctuary would be reviewed after 20. 

"We've made some good traction but there are some areas they think we cannot compromise," said Hunia.

What's on the table now is a long way from when former Prime Minister Sir John Key announced the sanctuary at the United Nations in 2015.

"New Zealand is proud to protect it for future generations," he said at the time.

He hadn't consulted Māori, which is pretty important given Māori secured fishing rights there in a landmark settlement in 1992. 

Since Sir John unveiled it, there's been a war of words, legal threats, a plea to the Human Rights Commission, and a change of government - yet nothing to show for it. 

"It seemed to be going well," said Hipkins. "Clearly, we haven't reached an outcome here so we'll go back and continue to consult and continue to work to make progress." 

Hunia said there's more work to be done. 

The Greens aren't holding out much hope it can be saved. 

"The Crown I think had bent over backwards in the negotiations to accommodate the issues that were raised," said Green MP Eugenie Sage.

There are a lot of fingers in this fish pie: iwi, the Crown, fishing companies, Te Ohu Kaimoana, the United Nations, Government departments, and politicians.

That's a lot of mouths to feed but all with different dietary requirements and at this rate, this feast looks like it'll be cancelled.