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Sanctuary subject to international law obligations

Kermadec Sanctuary and fishing rights subject to international law obligations to “preserve and protect the marine environment”

“In the discussion of the Kermadecs Sanctuary proposal, Maori and others are overlooking that any rights to fish are explicitly conditional on a binding obligation to “preserve and protect the marine environment” under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”, says Cath Wallace, former policy academic and vice chair of ECO, the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ.

“People are overlooking this binding international obligation to which any fishing rights are subject.”

“New Zealand has an unqualified obligation to “preserve and protect the marine environment” (Article 192), a binding legal obligation from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is the explicit condition on which we have any rights to harvest in the EEZ. It binds New Zealand, binds the government. Maori fishing rights in the EEZ are also bound by this international law.

“The right to exploit resources in the EEZ (Article 193) is explicitly subject to the obligation to “preserve and protect the marine environment. Thus any Maori rights in the EEZ are also conditional on this obligation.”

“We agree with Minister Nick Smith that the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Settlement) Act in 1992 never removed the right and the obligation of the Crown to establish marine protected areas, and the UNCLOS obligation remains in the Exclusive Economic Zone, that area of sea from 12-200 nautical miles.

“ECO agrees with critics of the government that the government consultation over the proposal was too truncated. We said so at the Select Committee hearing. ECO is not part of the proponent group.”

“We understand though that the environmental non-governmental organisations wanting the Kermadec Sanctuary did consult with fishing interests, the government was less thorough.”

“For all the government’s consultation flaws, the assertion that the passage of the Kermadecs Sanctuary Bill would strip Maori of their property rights is wrong, says Wallace, a retired senior academic who specializes in marine and environmental economics and management policy.”

“There is no loss of property rights, since the quota right remains and was never more than a “licence to hunt”. The miniscule catch in the Kermadec area, particularly over the last 15 years, is catchable outside the Kermadecs because the fish are migratory, eg tuna species. The seafloor is too deep for other fishing and trawling, and dredging has already been banned.”

“Under the Law of the Sea, and the Fisheries Settlement Act, Maori have a right to fish but not a priority right to fish that takes precedence over environmental protection.”

“Our industrial fishing companies and their political friends are full of their own rights but dismissive of the rights of the environment, of the future and of others to a healthy marine environment and they cannot wave away the international obligations that bind us all in the EEZ, says Wallace.


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