Foreign Minister Murray McCully has blasted proposed whaling catch limits set out by the International Whaling Commission as unacceptable to New Zealand and a backward step in the process to find a diplomatic solution.
But Greenpeace is suggesting there is still room for a compromise solution and that New Zealand can help get an acceptable one.
Mr McCully will be contacting other foreign ministers ahead of the IWC full meeting in Morocco in June in a bid to get the proposal improved.
The alternatives were "pretty awful", he said, suggesting that anarchy on the high seas in terms of whaling was possible.
Mr McCully has been relatively restrained until now because New Zealand's representative on the IWC, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has been chairing a sub-committee of the IWC that has been working on the proposal.
The proposal, released by the IWC itself, not Sir Geoffrey, would result in the present Japanese kill of about 500 in the Southern Ocean being reduced by about 100 to 400 for five years, before dropping to about 200 a year.
It also suggests allowing whaling a small number of the endangered fin whales - 10, then dropping to five.
But Mr McCully called that move inflammatory.
He said it was not a smart negotiating move and showed there had been some unhelpful influences at work.
"It is extremely disappointing given the amount of time and energy that has been consumed by the process," Mr McCully said in Auckland.
"To find a negotiated settlement requires significantly greater respect for the views New Zealand brings to the process."
New Zealand's position is to see the elimination of whaling in the Southern Ocean.
The objective of the compromise proposal is to bring all whaling under the control of the IWC and reduce the number of whales killed.
The total whale catch by the three whaling countries Japan, Norway and Iceland was 1678 in 2009. Under the proposal, the total world catch for the year 2020 would be 1624.
At present there is a moratorium on commercial whaling but Japan continues to whale for so-called scientific research and Norway, with a reservation against the moratorium, openly conducts commercial whaling.
Failure to find a compromise could spell the end of the IWC and any protections for whales.
Greenpeace yesterday protested at Parliament, setting up a mock whale graveyard.
Its New Zealand executive director, Bunny McDiarmid, urged Mr McCully to try to get a better deal with the IWC and whaling countries that would see the end of commercial whaling and an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.
"If the International Whaling Commission is going to stick together and come out with some future, there is going to have to be some compromises."
She said the fact that the whaling countries had sat down with non-whaling countries in the small group and come up with a proposal was a new thing.
"At most of the IWC meetings people just stand up and tell each other how wrong they are.
"This is a significant point in time that we have not been at before."
JAPAN'S SOUTHERN OCEAN MINKE KILL