The chairman of a Northland iwi says a lack of trust is behind the Government's decision not to compromise with Maori over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary proposal.

There has been a battle between some iwi, Maori fisheries body Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) and the Government over legislation which would turn 620,000 square kilometres of waters surrounding the Kermadec Islands, 1000km northeast of New Zealand, into a sanctuary.

That battle has led to a decision to delay the legislation which governs it, meaning the sanctuary's opening date of November is likely to be set back.

Te Runanga Nui o Te Aupouri chairman Rick Witana was invited to attend the Our Ocean conference in Washington DC this week but pulled out due to unresolved issues between iwi and the Government. He said Maori had proposed to voluntarily shelve their fishing quota around the islands but the Government was not on board when that was put to the table.


"The way they want to go about it is to confiscate fishing rights. We're saying let us concede, we can voluntarily shelve [Maori fishing quota] for 10 years and then lets assess the situation," he said.

At a meeting between iwi representatives, TOKM and the Government on Wednesday Minister for the Environment Nick Smith did not agree to the compromise. Mr Witana believed the decision was due to a lack of trust and said what iwi proposed was a "high trust" model.

"Te Aupouri supports the notion of marine reserves in order to conserve or preserve aspects of the environment that require it. Where these things intersect with Treaty matters the Government must make choices that have the least impact on Maori rights. The Government is not doing this - rather it is choosing the option that most intrudes on Maori rights," he said.

Dr Smith said the Government was disappointed it was unable to reach agreement with TOKM, which said it would be continuing legal action in the High Court on behalf of iwi.
"We have tried very hard to find a resolution with TOKM, with 10 meetings involving ministers during the past 10 months. TOKM wanted to be able to maintain the right to fish and the right to exercise that at some time in the future. We wanted to protect the integrity of the sanctuary as a no-take area," he said.

Dr Smith said the claimed consequences for TOKM were "way overstated". Maori have caught more than three million tonnes under the fisheries settlement since 1992, but not a single tonne in the Kermadecs, he said. Dr Smith said there are five fishing companies affected, none Maori, but who collectively have only caught about 20 tonne per year, out of an annual total fishing industry catch of 450,000 tonnes.

But Mr Witana said that did not mean this did not impact Maori.

"If you had bought a section of land and Auckland and you hadn't put a house on it and the Government said they are taking the land back because you're not using it, would you accept that?" said Mr Witana.

When asked if Te Aupouri would be withdrawing support for the sanctuary Mr Witana said he would need to have a discussion with the runanga.