2016-06-07 18.01.50Image: Representatives of the Iwi Collective Partnership of 14 Iwi meeting in Gisborne, 31 May 2016

There’s nothing unique about Māori fisheries interests, right?

Environmental NGOs like PEW, WWF and Forest and Bird would have you believe so. It’s one of the redwood planks supporting their campaign to establish an Ocean Sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands (FMA10).

Don’t use “Treaty Partners” and “Quota” in the same breath, and convince all that Māori fisheries interests are no different from the rest of the industry. Doing so suppresses the eNGOs’ collective conscience to strip Māori of their quota property rights in FMA10 because those property rights are an inconvenient truth to their campaign.

Irrespective of what the eNGOs would have you believe, here are 3 reasons why Māori fisheries interests in FMA10 are unique.

1. Fisheries is part of the Māori DNA

Māori fisheries interests weren’t gifted to Māori, they’ve always retained them as the original fishers of Aotearoa, New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi explicitly protects Māori fisheries interests simply because Māori were great fishers and no surprise, they loved to fish!

eNGOs would have you believe that the full extent of Māori fisheries was to gather a few cockabullies for a kai over the fire. The truth is that Māori were established fish traders holding monopolies over key markets like Auckland. Their nets were considered superior to anything the settlers had witnessed back in Europe.

So while general quota ownership stems from the Quota Management System (QMS), Māori quota property rights preceded the QMS and even preceded the Treaty of Waitangi.

2. Settlement Quota is real

Read para 4.4 of the joint PEW, WWF and Forest and Bird submission and you’d think there is no such thing as “Settlement Quota”. They’re wrong.  “Settlement Quota” is the unique legal definition given to quota allocated to Iwi under the Fisheries Treaty Settlement as expressly provided for in the Fisheries Act 1996.

Settlement Quota is distinguishable to forever demonstrate its unique origins.  Not only does the quota carry a different name but it also carries different legal restrictions.  For example Settlement Quota can’t be sold on the open market.  It can only be sold to other Iwi and only after following a really complicated legal process.  To highlight the difficulties, no Settlement Quota has ever been sold in the 12 years since first allocated.

3. Māori are present day quota property owners

Today, as at 3.52pm 7 June 2016, Iwi own quota shares in FMA10.  These are real.  Just check the quota ownership register. In fact Iwi are the exclusive owners of quota surrounding the Kermadecs.  The 14 Iwi that form part of the Iwi Collective Partnership beneficially own 31% of that quota. This is no theoretically right or future right, it is a present day property right.

Agreed that Iwi fisheries rights in FMA10 are undeveloped and the present dollar value is marginal but try convincing everyone that there was nil development potential in the Auckland property market 20 years ago!  Confiscating assets based on marginal economic values is last century policy!

Where to from here?

The inconvenient truth is that Iwi do own Settlement Quota that is unique to the rest of the industry, and that quota is a property right whose history says it shouldn’t be expropriated so freely. eNGOs ignoring the brown elephant in the room, Iwi fisheries, is not going to make the problem magically disappear. You should have learnt by now.  Unlike global NGOs, Iwi have nowhere else to go.

Start acknowledging us as Treaty Partners and working with us instead of over us and maybe, just maybe, we can find a respectable way forward. Until then Māori will defend our fisheries rights because they are distinguishable and they were hard won.

Maru Samuels is the General Manager of the Iwi Collective Partnership, a formal collective of 14 Iwi with settlement quota interests under the Fisheries Treaty Settlement. The Collective submitted on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill and supports the legal action being taken by Te Ohu Kaimoana.