Could ocean credits be the new carbon credits?

A northern iwi is considering a tradeable system, where iwi could forgo their fishing quota in exchange for environment credits - and the idea is gaining momentum.

Iwi Māori own half of New Zealand's fishing quota, which allows them to harvest around 300,000 tonnes of seafood each year.

While Ngāti Kurī owns just a small portion of this quota, a new environment plan has them asking confronting questions of their own commercial fishing practices.

Sheridan Waitai, the iwi's strategic relations manager, says people - her iwi included - need to get around the perceived entitlement, that fish is the commodity. And she warns if we don't have the right balance in the ocean's ecosystem, things will die.

Māori fishing authority Te Ohu Kaimoana told The Hui they'd be interested in talking further with Ngāti Kurī about the ideas.

"I think those sorts of innovative ideas are the ones we need to kick around the table," said chairman Dion Tuuta.

"Increasingly the world is getting more concerned about environmental management, and iwi all around the motu are concerned about these things."

Three Kings Islands/Manawatāwhi.
Three Kings Islands/Manawatāwhi. Photo credit: The Hui

Currently New Zealand has a carbon credits scheme (ETS) which encourages business and individuals to purchase carbon credits to help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Entities that grow trees creating carbon can sell units to other businesses that emit greenhouse gases.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who has committed to growing 1 billion trees to help reduce greenhouse gases, appeared impressed by Ngāti Kurī's new plan.

When asked whether trading fishing quota for 'ocean credits', Jones told The Hui there were international examples called 'blue bonds' and he'd be interested to hear more.

New Zealand needs to reach a target by 2020 to reduce emissions by 5 percent below the 1990 levels.

Even bigger sanctuary planned than Kermedecs

Ngāti Kurī have also rolled out a bold new environment plan which seeks to protect species and marine life within their tribal boundaries.

The guardians of Te Rerenga Wairua or Cape Reinga, have plans to create a sanctuary over their lands and seas. In 2015, they found themselves in the centre of a political scrap when former Prime Minister Sir John Key told the United Nations he'd create an ocean sanctuary in the Kermedec region.

But Te Ohu Kaimoana threatened legal action, saying the sanctuary was a breach of the fishing rights agreed to in the 1992 Sealord Settlement. The proposal to set up the sanctuary was shelved when the Māori Party threatened to walk away from Government, but now Ngāti Kurī want it back on the agenda.

Both Ngāti Kurī and Te Ohu Kaimoana agree that any sanctuary must be iwi-led.

The new sanctuary, called Te Haumihi, will be 900,000 square kilometres and take in part of Ngāti Kurī's land from Te Paki Stream near Ninety Mile Beach, across and over to the Kermedecs and Three Kings Islands.

Iwi chairman Harry Burkhardt said the iwi has been working with other islands who also have sanctuaries, including Palau, Hawaii and Rapanui.

" We see them as Puna Ora (pools of life) - they are ways to heal the ocean, and if we can bolt those together I think there is a better outcome."

Tuuta said there are plans for them to travel to the Far North to hear more about Ngātī's Kurī's new vision.

Waitai told The Hui that's exactly what needs to happen because unless we act with urgency, we may not win the race against time to save our oceans.

The Hui