Maori leaders are calling for greater collaboration to protect hard won resources and build dominance in the fishing sector.

It is 25 years since the Maori Fisheries Settlement (the Sealord deal) gave substance to the promise made in the Treaty of Waitangi over Maori rights to their fisheries.

The struggle over recognition of those rights has become a struggle to prevent their usurpation and removal by the Crown or others, Te Ohu Kaimoana chair Jamie Tuuta told last week's Maori Fisheries conference.

The allocation of those resources has been challenging and at times divisive.

"We have to find ways of reversing the fragmentation that has occurred since the allocation process but in a way that respects the mana and identity of individual iwi,” Te Ohu chief executive Dion Tuuta said.

Iwi rejected the option of keeping commercial fisheries assets together in a centrally managed Maori super-fishing company in which they would all be shareholders in favour of direct rangatiratanga over their assets.

The downside of direct ownership under the allocation model was the reduced and near uneconomic scale of many fisheries settlement packages.

Tuuta’s own iwi, Ngati Mutunga in Taranaki, owned just 0.19 percent of all Maori quota.

“That’s barely a rounding error,” he said.

‘We stand little or no chance on our own and we are by no means alone in that situation.”

A way of overcoming that was the example set by Port Nicholson Fisheries, a crayfish collective of over 30 iwi.

The company had signed an agreement with Ngai Tahu Seafoods which would see them collectively market and export around 1000 tonnes of rock lobster, making it New Zealand’s largest live exporter.

The largest participant in this collective had around 400 tonnes of lobster quota. The smallest has just 69kgs.

“This was achieved in six years and if it can be done in crayfish, surely it can be done in other species,” Tuuta said.

“The reality is that we all have to support one another and find co-operative models and courageous leadership which brings us all together if we truly wish to lead.”

He said Maori had to value their own world view, insisting on concepts like kaitiakatanga and preserving natural resources.

Maori endorsed the Quota Management System because of its kaitiakitanga-like focus on using resources within suitable tolerances.

"The fundamental principle of the QMS is to only take from the ocean what can be sustained without negatively impacting on the environment's ability to provide for future generations - and without undue effects on supporting ecosystems."

Craig Ellison, chair of Seafood New Zealand and of Ngai Tahu Seafood, said Maori had great brands and a great brand story but had not realised their full value.

"Your role as managers, directors, participants in the sector is to lead and collaboration on the basis of shared values is the way forward."

Ngati Porou Seafood's chief executive Mark Ngata called for Maori domination of the seafood sector and a stronger voice in wider society.

He said he was not interested in polite argument for the future but was more interested in domination of a seafood industry in which Maori held 40 percent of the total quota.

"It's not about the fish, it's about us."

He quoted his great uncle Sir Apirana Ngata:

"It is our generation's turn to carry on the responsibility in our time and in accordance with our greater resources and higher standards."

As for the QMS, he said it had stopped overharvesting of the resource but felt it could benefit from review.

Moana Fisheries chair Whaimutu Dewes set some ambitious challenges.

They included Maori moving its 40 percent share to a majority, doubling current assets of around $1.5 billion and lifting revenue from the current $200 million to $600 million.

Sealord, 50 percent owned by iwi, has demonstrated its confidence in the sector by commissioning the most modern, efficient and most expensive trawler to enter the New Zealand fleet.

The 82-metre factory freezer trawler, costing $70 million, is due to arrive from Norway in June.