Muttonbird supply drop, price rise due to COVID-19

By Bronson Perich

One of COVID-19’s unfortunate side-effect, the tītī (muttonbird) harvest was late. The traditional harvesters from Te Wai Pounamu were given authorisation 11 days later than their normal departure date. A smaller harvest, with the same expenses means less tītī at a higher price. Michael Skerrett (Ngāi Tahu) is part of the privileged few who are entrusted with gathering these prized delicacies. He explains the impact that these restrictions had on this ancient practice.

“The prices actually go up. This is the old supply and demand isn’t it?” Michael Skerrett says.

The tītī is a migratory bird. The harvest has to be complete before they return to the northern hemisphere.

“The main thing for us is the birds being in good nick. Those that get away will survive. It’s really important for the future,” he says.

Tītī eat plankton. The hotter the weather, the less plankton there are for the tītī to eat. Skerrett says that when tītī migrate back from the northern hemisphere, they will fly up to 1000 km a day, eating nothing until they come back to Aotearoa.

It is vital that there is enough plankton for the tītī to eat when they get here. Otherwise they won’t breed enough.

“The whole success of the breeding is around the food supply."

This, Skerrett says is why climate change is one of the greatest threats to the survival of the tītī.