Ngāi Tahu kaumātua Michael Skerrett says muttonbirding has been affected by climate change.
He has been going to the islands for over 65 years and says his world revolves around the tītī.
“Last year was the first reasonable year we’ve had for 13 years, since 2007. That’s all down to climate change.”
Every year hundreds of Rakiura (Stewart Island) iwi and their descendants gather mutton birds on the 26 Tītī islands between April 1 and May 31 each year.
2021 has been “the best year probably since 2006, though 2007 was alright too,” Skerrett says as he reflects on his experience, which has led him to witness first-hand the changes in harvest seasons over time.
Skerrett says although the iwi has been collecting tītī every season for hundreds of years, the impact is tiny compared to the threat of climate change.
“What we do is so little, our science tells us we harvest about 14%. That’s pretty small when you compare a farmer who harvests the bulk of their stock, the big issue is global warming (climate change) giving us a lot of strife.”
Kaiaka, adults - Tītī, chicks
He says the whole success of the season depends on the food supply.
“When we get El Niño conditions, the production of plankton drops, that’s the bottom of the food chain. All the little animals that tītī feed on, krill and all those little animals are just not there when we get El Niño.”
As New Zealand experiences more El Niño seasons, the effects are widespread.
“So, if it is El Niño in the spring, they struggle to get to the condition to breed, don’t lay so many eggs and they’re spread out. The bulk of the parents leave by the middle of April and if they aren’t developed enough they’re not going to make it.”