Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Maui's dolphin protection plan doesn't breach Treaty, tribunal finds

Maui's dolphin numbers are hovering around 50. Photo / Supplied
Maui's dolphin numbers are hovering around 50. Photo / Supplied

The Waitangi Tribunal has found that the Government's protection plan for the highly endangered Maui's dolphin does not breach the Treaty of Waitangi.

The tribunal said today that the native dolphin was a taonga to two North Island hapu because of its endangered status, and their interests deserved the Crown's protection under the Treaty.

However, there was no evidence that the Crown's threat management plan for the dolphin breached the Treaty.

"Based on the evidence it considered, the tribunal was unable to conclude that the Crown's processes lacked good faith or were unreasonable," the tribunal said in a statement.

The Crown was entitled to take into account wider social, economic and cultural considerations in deciding its protection for the species.

"While it was obliged to take into account the dolphin's importance as a taonga to Māori, the Crown also owed Treaty duties to Māori with fisheries interests in the Māui's dolphin habitat."

The tribunal said that while the dolphin's potential extinction was a grave concern, the claimants "had not made out their claim to breaches of the Treaty".

Ngati Te Wehi and Ngati Tahinga, which are based near the dolphin's habitat on the west coast of the North Island, alleged in 2013 that the Crown's protection plan did not take into account their interests as kaitiaki, or guardians, of the Maui's dolphin.

One of the world's smallest and rarest dolphins, it is found only off the west coast of the North Island.

The Department of Conservation estimated in 2012 that there were between 48 and 69 of the dolphins remaining.

- NZ Herald

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