Concerned local films 'shocking' commercial activity on 90 Mile Beach

By Te Ao - Māori News

A video of heavy-duty vehicles collecting mussel spat on 90 Mile Beach has fired up locals and is making waves on social media.

Ahipara local Rawhiti Waiti posted the footage, which shows a cluster of at least eight heavy-duty trucks, tractors and huge trailers pulling tonnes of seaweed from the foreshore, gathering mussel spat under billowing clouds of smoke.

Mr Waiti spoke to Te Ao news and says he was shocked to see it and couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.

“I wanted to raise awareness with whānau as to what happens here on our beach. I knew there was such a thing as spat picking, but the scale that I saw it on that morning was a real eye-opener for me. And I can tell now, especially from all the feedback I’ve received from everyone around the country especially up home here, a lot of people were totally oblivious to the extent of it,” says Waiti.

While there have been ongoing concerns raised by locals over commercial fishing and spat farming for years along Te Oneroa a Tohe, Waiti says capturing the activity on camera has given people an insight they never imagined.

“I’ve never seen it on such a scale, and it makes us wonder what’s happening further up the beach?”

Jo Conrad (Te Aupouri) has also been very vocal about the impact the commercial activity is having on the coastline, and he’s also raised it directly with authorities tasked with protecting the environment.

He spoke to Te Ao news in June and highlighted that commercial fishermen were ignorant and didn’t care they were desecrating a sacred Māori reserve in Te Kao. He said fish and shellfish stock were vanishing as a direct result of commercial activity on the East Beach.

“How on earth has whoever is in control of handing out these permits, can they keep handing out permits for people to fish on a Māori reserve or anything like that? I’ve seen the depletion of food, it's disappeared,” says Conrad. 

Mr Conrad says he hoped the activity had reduced since then, but the Facebook video proved otherwise.

He described the activity as “carnage” on the coastline.

“The gathering of spat down the Ahipara end of 90 Mile Beach and you can obviously see now the wider public has seen what’s happening they are upset too at what’s happening here.”

The Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) issues permits and licenses for spat gathering and responded to the concerns raised by locals and a rapidly growing number of people on social media.

The head of Fisheries New Zealand Don Bolger acknowledged in a statement that the issue at hand was contentious, but the operators involved in the activity are licensed commercial fishers operating under the quota management system.

“The activity they’re engaged in is lawful. Our Fishery Officers are monitoring spat collection activities to ensure they are being undertaken legally.

We have met with Iwi representatives through the Te Hiku o te Ika Iwi Fisheries Forum to discuss this fishery and their concerns and will continue to discuss the issue.”

Aquaculture New Zealand is tasked with managing the code of practice for the commercial green-lipped mussel industry, mussel spat collection and loader driving on beaches and the code is reviewed each year.

The code requires harvesters to avoid areas where toheroa and tuatua beds occur, limit time on the beach, avoid areas of high public and cultural importance, and ensure all harvesting machinery is well serviced and not leaking fuel and oil.

But Rawhiti Waiti told Te Ao news he filmed what he did because the operation was happening on local tuatua beds.

“For a lot of us, that’s our kāpata kai, that’s our mahi mataitai where we gather our kaimoana and I know that further up the beach around where they were gathering spat there are big tuatua beds. And there’s further concern when they’re driving back up the beach, especially when the beds are high and dry, they’re just ploughing through them and all you can hear is crunching from the shells and everything.”

Waiti says the commercial work will no doubt be impacting the struggle to rebuild the toheroa stock along the coastline as well.

While Mr Conrad and Mr Waiti agree the code of conduct covers important aspects that must be considered, the lack of resources provided to police it and adequately monitor the behaviour of the commercial industry is failing everyone.

Waiti says,  “MPI should become more involved to make sure these rules and regulations are followed because at the end of the day what these people are getting away with is we don’t know, they have all these rules and regulations, but we really don’t know who if anyone is enforcing them.”

Te Rarawa Chair and head of Te Oneroa a Tohe Governance Board, Haami Piripi says he was also shocked and concerned after seeing the footage.

He says the governance board in combination with local government and Te Hiku o Te Ika iwi have “begun the process of developing a beach management plan for the 90 Mile. This statutory plan will shape the future use of the beach across a range of areas, including cultural, resource management and environmental considerations.

"The process includes a series of hui and public consultation and our collective decisions over the next few years will impact generations to come. So, it’s definitely worth investing the time now to ensure we get the best result possible.”

Fisheries New Zealand says they are also working with Aquaculture New Zealand to ensure commercial operators who are engaged in activity respect the values of Iwi, as well as those of the wider community and to ensure the activity remains safe and sustainable.

Locals like Conrad and Waiti believe the only way to limit the damage until a proper solution is reached is to establish a blanket rāhui on commercial activity along the coastline.

They also both believe if nothing is done soon, iwi, hapu and the wider community will band together to stop what Waiti described in his online video as the “ultimate rape and pillage of the coastline.”

MPI told Te Ao news that with a spat-to-seaweed ratio, the overall harvest of seaweed/spat is capped at 720 tonnes. 

Te Ao news asked MPI if the number of trucks and trailers appeared to be excessive and they directed our query to local council and police.

Te Ao news will continue to cover this story as it develops.