What is Customary Marine Title?


Obviously the most important and extensive of the rights, is basically about some of the elements of ownership and exclusive possession (that is, the right to possess the area to the exclusion of all other people), but the rights are conditional. For example, the group cannot sell the area, i.e. it cannot be alienated, save in accordance with tikanga to other persons in the same iwi or hapū. Nor can members of the public be excluded (Section 26), subject to any wāhi tapu conditions that have been included in a government agreement or High Court order recognising Māori customary rights under the Act (Section 79).

Title can be recognised if the applicant group holds the specified area in accordance with tikanga, and has “exclusively used and occupied the coastal area from 1840 to the present day, without substantial interruption” (Section 58) – or received it since 1840 in accordance with tikanga from a group which itself had exclusive use and occupation since 1840 (Section 60). There is no requirement to hold abutting or contiguous land, but this may be taken into account when determining whether customary marine title (CMT) exists. If a group has CMT recognised over an area, their rights will include the following:

  • a Resource Management Act permission right which allows the group say yes or no to activities that need resource consents or permits in the area - in effect the right to veto any proposed development;
  • a conservation permission right which allows the group say yes or no to certain conservation activities in the area;
  • the right to be notified and consulted when other groups apply for marine mammal watching permits in the area the right to be consulted about changes to Coastal Policy Statements (Section 77);
  • a wāhi tapu protection right, which lets the group seek recognition of a wāhi tapu and restrict access to the area, thereby creating public no-go zones, (Ss 78 and 79). Trespassers can be fined of up to $5,000, (Section 81(2));
  • the ownership of all minerals which are found in the area, other than petroleum, gold, silver and uranium. For example, where CMT is vested in an iwi or hapū over an area with iron sand deposits, those deposits would belong to that iwi or hapū. The group is entitled to receive any royalties due to the Crown in respect of such minerals from the date on which an application for title is first lodged (Section 84(3)(b)).

While the Act guarantees access to the coastline, without charge, for individuals, the Act does not prohibit CMT holders from charging groups or commercial users for access, (Section 26(1)).

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