Taranaki rāhui may get council backing

By Contributor

Rāhui coordinator Mahara Okeroa says commercial interests are pushing back against the bid for legal kaimoana protection along the Taranaki coast. / Supplied

New Plymouth district councillors will consider supporting a two-year ban on collecting kaimoana along the coast to the south of the city.

In May the hapū of Taranaki iwi asked the Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker to legally ban seafood gathering along the coast, to help enforce a customary rāhui that has been in place for months.

The rāhui coordinator, Parihaka kaumātua Mahara Okeroa, this week addressed New Plymouth District Council's Te Huinga Taumatua committee and councillor Tony Bedford urged action to back the legal ban bid.

"If the council wants to make a submission in support of it, for me that's natural, I absolutely 100 per cent support it… Time is of the essence."

Te Huinga Taumatua co-chair Gordon Brown asked council-iwi relationship staff to draft a submission for consideration when the full council next meets on September 6.

Public submissions close on September 15, and the hapū is hosting a public meeting about the rāhui at Oākura Hall this Sunday for whānau and the wider community.

The proposal for legal closure sets out what is protected - all shellfish including pāua, kina and pūpū; rock lobster, crabs; octopus, anemones, conger eel; and all seaweed (excluding beach cast).

 Te Korimako o Taranaki via LDR

Rāhui coordinator Mahara Okeroa says commercial interests are pushing back against the bid for legal kaimoana protection along the Taranaki coast. Photo: Te Korimako o Taranaki via LDR

The ban would extend two nautical miles offshore, covering some 300 square kilometres but fin fish would be omitted.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has called for submissions "from persons who have an interest in the stocks concerned or in the effects of fishing in the area concerned".

Section 186a of the Fisheries Act provides for a ban on collection for two years, with the possibility of renewal.

Taking kaimoana under a legal ban attracts fines of up to $5000, or up to $100,000 if it is taken for sale.

The rāhui was first laid around Ōpunakē in January, after alarm at ever-increasing carloads and busloads of visitors from Auckland's Asian communities who came to collect kaimoana during the past two summers.

As more hapū joined the rahui, it spread along 70 kilometres of coastline to Paritutu in New Plymouth.

Pamphlets to explain rahui

Initially in place until the end of July, the rāhui has been extended indefinitely.

Every weekend community patrols have been asking coast-goers to respect the rāhui, handing out leaflets and explaining why they want the reefs left alone.

A two-year ban would enable monitoring of taonga species and consideration of measures such as mātaitai - reserves where tangata whenua make bylaws to manage non-commercial fishing, and commercial fishing is generally banned.

Okeroa said political representations had drawn heat.

"We are already getting fairly strong pressure from the [Rock Lobster Industry Council] for commercial crayfish, so things are going to get delicate before they get better.

"We expect to have pushback… Every morning from my window I see the to and fro of commercial cray fishers."

Friction over cultural permits

All hapū had agreed to issue no cultural harvest permits for the likes of hui and tangihanga but Okeroa said there was friction.

"We're meeting a bit of pressure from our own people as well: My answer to that is if I can't have a pāua and a kina from down there, if we're prepared to sacrifice that, then so should you."

The chair of Te Kāhui o Taranaki and of the Oākura Pā trustees Jacqui King also sits on Te Huinga Taumatua.

She said Covid-19 limits on international travel and organised bus tours have led to a soul-destroying pillage of the reefs.

"Tour guides have brought them to our spaces… MPI found evidence of that.

'They strip a rock with a wire'

"Our beaches are so accessible and that's advertised over Facebook - you Google it, search YouTube and it's easily found if you speak Chinese."

The taking of undersized pāua in numbers beyond legal catch limits was not the only problem, King said.

"It's everything: They strip a rock with a wire and take everything off. Anything that tastes of the sea is gone.

"It's been an awful lot of whānau who have not been born in New Zealand, who haven't been able to get home for their traditional practices, who've used the resources that we have in numbers that have been unsustainable."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air