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Whale Sanctuary Proposal - Lee Seeks Clarification

Minister Seeks Clarification Of Request That NZ Withdraw Whale Sanctuary Proposal To IWC This Year

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee says she's seeking clarification from the Chairman, following a Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission (Te Ohu Kai Moana) request that New Zealand withdraw its South Pacific whale sanctuary proposal from the agenda of this year's IWC meeting.

"This request is contrary to what I had understood was the Fisheries Commission's more supportive position on the sanctuary when I discussed the issue with the Chairman last month," Ms Lee said today.

"The Fisheries Commission stance is significant because the proposed whale sanctuary only affects commercial interests in the killing of whales," she said. "It will not prejudice any particular customary use right for access to material derived from stranded whales."

The Conservation Minister questioned whether TOKM realised it was flagging a future wish to undertake commercial whaling, currently banned under an International Whaling Commission moratorium.

The Minister urged the Fisheries Commission to remember that whales were not fish, but highly intelligent mammal species that had swum the seas for at least 30-million years, compared with the three million years human species had existed.

Ms Lee said the sanctuary dumping request was made in a TOKM paper presented to MFAT officials on 29 June, only four days before the IWC's scientific committee began meeting in London to debate preliminary issues for the decision-making 'Plenary Session' starting on 23 July.

The Conservation Minister will lead the New Zealand delegation attending the Plenary Session, where she will again propose a whale sanctuary for the South Pacific and co-sponsor a new initiative for a South Atlantic whale sanctuary.

"The government's mandate for the proposal comes from Labour and Alliance policies, and from a pro-sanctuary petition signed last year by 100,000 New Zealanders, as well as from resolutions at the Pacific Forum and at a recent regional environmental seminar in Apia that the proposal be progressed."

Ms Lee said TOKM was in danger of being seen to be over-reacting, as the proposed sanctuary would make no change to the legally protected status whales already have in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, through the Marine Mammals Protection Act.

"The existing Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, which circles Antarctica, has its northern boundary at latitude 40 degrees south, passing through Wanganui, which means over half New Zealand's EEZ is already covered by a sanctuary."

Ms Lee said Maori customary rights to whales were already recognised by Department of Conservation protocol arrangements with local iwi, providing Maori with access to beached whales. She said whale bone was already made available from dead whales for carving.

The Conservation Minister said Ngai Tahu had benefited from live whales through the hugely successful Kaikoura whale watch venture, which was acknowledged at the Apia seminar in April as a model for similar ventures in the region.

"TOKM has been very successful at growing the value of their commercial interest in fisheries, but I am seeking confirmation whether the latest statement on the sanctuary proposal has a clear mandate from the full Commission," Ms Lee said.

Ms Lee says the Department of Conservation regularly consults and works with iwi and hapu over marine mammal strandings and cultural harvest.

She said DOC's network of offices throughout the country had either formal protocols or informal arrangements with local iwi and hapu that governed the liaison with the department when whale strandings occurred.

A protocol for the management of whale stranding in the Ngatiwai rohe (area of tribal jurisdiction) has been in force since May 1998 in the Northland and Auckland conservancies. In the Waikato, DOC manages a range of contingency arrangements. In Coromandel, for example, the department operates a protocol to contact and consult the relevant iwi representatives whenever a whale stranding is notified. DOC has informal agreements with all coastal hapu and iwi in the East Coast and Hawkes Bay that typically involve DOC being allowed to bury whales on iwi property, iwi and DOC working together to recover whalebone and DOC preparing whalebone for marae useage.

In the Bay of Plenty, DOC has developed informal protocols with coastal hapu and iwi covering key areas where strandings are common. Typically, kaumatua (elders) say karakia (prayers) for dead whales before discussions are held between hapu or iwi and DOC to resolve issues such as bone extraction for cultural purposes and specimens for scientific research.

The Wanganui conservancy is planning a series of hui with coastal iwi to establish formal protocols for dealing with marine mammals that will be written into a stranding plan. Currently tangata whenua are notified of a stranding and advice is sought on what they wish to do in terms of products from dead whales. In the neighbouring Wellington region, stranding protocols have been developed for iwi in the Kapiti Coast, Wairarapa, Poneke and in the remote Chatham Islands.

In the South Island, iwi are notified as early as possible when whale strandings are reported but relations range far beyond these activities. DOC's Takaka area office, for example, constructed a whalebone and cultural materials store at a Golden Bay marae as a gift to the local iwi. On the West Coast, allocation questions are addressed on a case-by-case basis. Formal protocols are being developed with iwi throughout the South Island, with several formal protocols already in place covering coastal iwi in Otago. In one case, DOC plans to use funds from a dead humpback whale to bring a Maori expert from the West Coast to teach locals from Otago hapu and iwi to flense out a carcass.

Ms Lee said there was continual dialogue occurring between hapu, iwi and DOC on a range of conservation issues.

"Marine mammal strandings and cultural harvest are typical of the Department of Conservation's activities that acknowledge the special place of tangata whenua in this country."

Ends

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