An American Professor of Environmental Management says Aotearoa could lead the world in marine conservation if there is strong Māori involvement.
Professor Gary Libecap of the University of California says not including indigenous peoples in environmental affairs is a mistake.
"If you really wanted to protect the resource for the long term you really want to involve everybody who knows a lot about it, who has a great stake in it and not including indigenous peoples is an error."
Libecap was hosted Thursday by Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Māori Fisheries Trust. He’s been researching the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a fisheries and environment management tool.
"By and large [indigenous people are] ignored and yet these are the people that often know the most about the resource and have the greatest ties to the resource in so many important ways."
Libecap’s research shows 0.5 percent of MPAs established worldwide received input from indigenous peoples.
Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Dion Tuuta says “frankly that’s not good enough”.
"We believe that iwi should have more involvement in how these sorts of measures are put in place in Aotearoa if they are indeed needed."
New Zealand has 44 marine-protected spaces defined as 'no take areas' including marine reserves such as the Kermadecs, species-specific sanctuaries, seabed reserves and recreational fishing parks.
However, Libecap says MPAs aren’t the best option for marine conservation and fisheries management because they rarely have any measureable objectives to determine their success.
“We want to know causality, is the MPA helping us or is it just incidental?
“You could have disease within, you could have changes in water temperature or salinity or a variety of things that would undermine the conservation objective but we wouldn’t know if that’s due to the MPA failing or because of these other factors.”
He says the answer exists in building on the Quota Management System (QMS) and the Fisheries Settlement.
"Build on the QMS. It's already being done in parts of British Columbia, Canada and Alaska and the US in certain fisheries that have quota systems, they're not nearly as robust as New Zealand's- which are viewed pretty much uniformly as being the world's best."
He says Māori models balance indigenous, economic and conservation interests and other countries could learn from this approach.
"I'm not very optimistic in other areas where indigenous peoples don’t have the kind of rights and guarantees that [Māori] have, so you want to protect them, not only for Māori but for the whole notion of bringing proper management to conservation and natural resources."
Tuuta says, "We're hopeful that moving forward these sorts of discussions would begin between Treaty partners around how things should move ahead."