Come Together To Save Fisheries
was originally published in the NZ Herald on Nov 19 2005
Just before the
steep hill which leads to the imposing sand dunes of Hokianga
Harbour is a green valley steeped in Maori history.
| Turn along a 4km gravel road in the valley, past
Whakamaharatanga marae, and you reach Waimamaku Beach on the
wild west coast.
The sun is going down
and a lone surfcaster is silhouetted on the rocks.
He lives up the road and has been fishing for kahawai for dinner
- but he's caught nothing. It did not used to be like this. It's
a worry, he says.
The next morning, men gather outside the marae. They say "kia
ora" and press noses.
Nothing unusual, except for the fact that these men who hongi one
another are white.
They are middle-class, most are middle-aged and some are very well-off.
They represent recreational fishing groups and they, like their
Ngapuhi hosts and the solitary surfcaster, are worried.
Their hongi is symbolic of a growing unity. These men, and Maori
from other parts of the North Island, have travelled to join forces
in an attempt to save the nation's fisheries, a resource they believe
has been fleeced by commercial fishing over the years but for which
they say fishing policy punishes them instead.
They will spend the next two days on this marae, sleeping mattress-to-mattress
with Ngapuhi, and talking about fish.
As they mill around on another sunny northern morning awaiting formal
welcome, repeated over and over are calls for more fish in the ocean.
They say that where once the ocean was teeming with snapper, flounder,
mullet and kahawai, now there is scarcity.
This hui will echo with passion what most see as an unfair allocation
of resources that favours commercial fishers.
For all the suspicion on both sides - the Pakeha who think that
Maori get special treatment with customary and Treaty of Waitangi
fishing rights and Maori who think Pakeha want to stop them - a
realisation has come about that when it comes to fishing both want
the same thing.
The realisation has not come overnight and there is a long way to
go. But this hui, one of a Ministry of Fisheries series of forums
on customary rights, is their fourth together.
Ngapuhi's Sonny Tau - sunglasses on the back of his neck and wearing
an aqua-blue beanie - is chairman of Te Runanga A Iwi O Ngapuhi,
the country's largest iwi. He rules the hui with quick humour and
sudden sternness, a joke-cracking leader with a serious message.
To his left is Jodi Mantle, the Pakeha Mfish senior fisheries management
adviser for the northern inshore area, who comes in for regular,
polite digs. She takes them well, standing up to speak when Tau
tells her to and remaining calm under fire. Her job, she says, is
to listen and take back to the ministry what she hears.
Tau explains the main reason why Maori and Pakeha are uniting on
this issue, a point Maori in particular need to get their heads
Although under the law Maori have customary fishing rights, most
of the time they are categorised as recreational fishers, just like
the Pakeha at the hui. It is a concept some Maori find hard to grasp
because their relationship with the sea as a provider of food goes
Tau has tried hard to get his people to understand. After the first
joint hui in April he told Tautoko FM, a Maori radio station in
Northland, the Ministry of Fisheries had "done an excellent
job of fooling us into thinking that our rights to fish have been
catered for under the customary fisheries regulations. This is as
far from the truth as one can get".
Mfish had created, in law, three categories of fishers - customary,
recreational and commercial.
But customary fishing goes only as far as the collection of seafood
for a hui or an important occasion, and requires a permit.
"When we fish to feed our babies, Mfish has categorised that
as recreational fishing."
When the hui breaks for lunch, Tau walks along Waimamaku Beach to
be photographed. He talks fishing along the way, going back to the
late 70s and early 80s.
The commercial fishers exploited the fishing so much that in 1986
the quota management system was introduced, designed to manage the
commercial take because of the depletion of the fisheries. It was
a great idea.
"Then in 1989 the Government wanted to sell fishing rights
to foreign companies so Maori injuncted the QMS and what came out
of it was that Maori were given 10 per cent of the asset and $150
million to buy Sealords."
Today, Maori own half of Sealords and Japanese fishing giant Nissui
the other half.
But when the Sealord deal was signed, Maori customary rights to
fish changed forever, Tau says. Before that, Maori just went out
But Ngapuhi own a large fishing quota, so why are they so concerned
about recreational fishing?
"Quite frankly, my people have told me, categorically, that
they want food on their table rather than being on the Chinese or
Japanese table," Tau says. "That comes above our commercial
business." They will take a commercial cut before a customary
or recreational cut, he says.
"There is no conflict, no conflict whatsoever. People perceive
it to be a conflict, but we don't look at a monetary value on our
ability to feed people. Our ability to feed our families comes first.
That's where it begins and ends."
No one at the hui likes the term recreational fishing. Tau says
his mother taught him that food was not to be played with.
The Pakeha don't like it either. Aside from those who catch and
release fish, such as marlin, they go fishing for food. Everyone
agrees that non-commercial is the best term for them.
One of the key non-commercial groups represented at the hui is known
as option4. It was born out of a Ministry of Fisheries document
five years ago on managing the fisheries. It presented three options,
but a group of non-commercial fishers didn't like any of them and
came up with option4.
They and other non-commercial fishermen at the hui say they are
not looking to stamp out commercial fishing.
What they want is for conservation of the fishery and the rights
of non-commercial fishermen to be put first.
One particular issue really upsets option4. Mfish, they say, want
to manage the fisheries by way of a proportional system, where if
fishing is good the percentage take would go up the same amount
across the three categories. If it were bad it would be cut across
the three categories.
It is a system which has already been used. Former Fisheries Minister
David Benson-Pope used it in September in what is known as the Snapper
8 decision, where commercial fishing has led to recreational bag
limits on the west coast from North Cape to Wellington.
The commercial, recreational and customary allocation were all cut
by 13.5 per cent. A proportional system might sound fair, but leaders
at the hui say it is not.
Tau introduces Paul Barnes, option4 project leader and a former
commercial fisherman, but now passionate non-commercial fisherman
whose "korero will blow away the myth the ministry continues
to push about why everyone should have the same proportional cut".
Barnes uses a branch to point to a series of overheads. He's done
this before and knows his stuff. He starts with a history of the
fisheries as he sees it. Basically, there used to be more fish and
they were bigger.
His overhead shows a map of New Zealand and alongside the west coast
are pictures of snapper. In the South Island they are big but from
about New Plymouth they shrink.
He puts up another map with blotches to represent commercial trawling.
The bigger the blotch, the smaller the fish.
"The west coast used to be famous for its big fish. Most are
gone. The reality is that after having a QMS for 20 years many of
our fisheries are still in a depleted state. It is recreational
and customary fishers who bear the brunt of this mismanagement."
Option4 suspects there's a plot to cap the recreational catch at
what it is now.
Barnes argues that the recreational catch has already been suppressed
to all-time lows in many important inshore fisheries through mismanagement
and voluntary conservation by the recreational sector.
Capping it now means the minimum possible amount of fish would be
set aside for non-commercial fishers.
"Instead of commercial fishers' quota representing a share
of the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) it will represent
a share of the total allowable catch (TAC) of all sectors.
"Equally, non-commercial fishers will also be given a share
of the total allowable catch of all sectors. This share will be
the amount that is left over after the commercial quota rights have
been transferred to the proportional
Under the system the ministry would be able to remove themselves
from the contentious business of allocation decisions - and avoid
their responsibility to the people of this country.
Challenged about what the ministry's intention on proportionalism
was, Jodi Mantle told the hui the ministry had assigned someone
to look at allocation issues, but it was early stages.
Asked after the hui if there were sufficient fish, she said: "I
believe there are actually plenty of fish in the sea."
Some of the anecdotal information from fishermen was true, she said.
There were sustainability concerns about snapper and kahawai.
"The good news is that the ministry has noted there is a sustainability
concern and they have put measures in place and now, unfortunately,
it's just a waiting time until they rebuild."
But in other areas the scientific evidence did not show it was as
bad as fishermen thought and when making decisions the scientific
information came first.
"If you actually sit down with people and say 'Have you been
fishing lately?' most of it is pretty positive, but again, it's
those few key species that there does seem to be concerns with."
In Auckland, before the hui, option4 driving force Scott Macindoe
said all New Zealanders' right to fish must be protected.
He is one of the few Pakeha who can trace on a map the boundaries
of Maori tribes. The most precious taonga [treasure] is the fisheries,
"There's nothing more righteous than a sack of paua providing
for the needs of visitors to a tangi, full stop."
The first hui, Macindoe says, was a gift from Ngapuhi to the non-commercial
"We learned waiata, we learned about the realms and the phenomena,
we learned about the whakapapa, the histories, the boundaries.
"There's no great difference between us when we go to the beach
to fish for food, or the boat. We are governed by the same regulations,
we are the same, we're citizens of the country."
Macindoe says no one is blaming the commercial fishers. They have
been allowed to fish to that extent. It comes back to legislation
Pakeha Paul Smit of Herne Bay says he has been "awakened in
When people ask why he is going away to a hui, he says to them:
"Well, you know, it's about making sure there are fish in the
water for your kids and your grandchildren, that's what I say."
There was a sense of bonding at the hui, which finished with roars
A Ngapuhi kaumatua welcomed the Pakeha gathered and pointed out
that Pakeha were not always welcomed by the tupuna [ancestors].
"They were a little bit salty, but we have come a long way