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Roger Beattie

Maori fishery reserves – bureaucratic racism

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Te Atiawa, a Marlborough iwi, proposes a Maori fishing reserve (mataitai) over 99% of Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds. This mataitai takes many rights from many people. It robs our children of their future.

Mataitai are customary fishing reserves under Treaty of Waitangi fisheries settlements. Tangata whenua, or their appointed Tangata Tiaki / Kaitiaki, can apply for a mataitai reserve anywhere within their area.

Mataitai reserves are only Maori and only for Maori traditional fishing. Parliament indicated that mataitai would be small discrete areas of special importance to Maori such as reefs and shell beds.

In late 1998 Rapaki in Lyttelton Harbour became the first mataitai (about 25 hectares and 2.5 km of coastline). The Rapaki mataitai went through with the goodwill and best wishes of all sectors.

Sloppy administration of mataitai regulations encourages mataitai to grow – both in area and scope. Customary Maori seized the chance to take control of coastal fisheries.

Late 2004 saw an 8000 hectare mataitai declared over Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island . Other large mataitai followed: Moremore in 2005 off Napier (9000 hectares and about 20 km of coastline), Raukokere in 2005 at East Cape (2600 hectares and about 13 km of coastline), and Aotea Harbour in 2008 (4000 hectares and about 45 km of shore line). Applications are also in process or planned for Tory Channel (2500 hectares and 80 km of shoreline), Otago Harbour (5000 hectares and 45 km plus of shore line) and Lyttelton Harbour (4000 hectares and 30 km plus of shoreline).

There are now about 13 declared mataitai and many more in the pipeline.

The emphasis in mataitai is no longer traditional fishing. The Paterson Inlet mataitai has an invited Committee of Management from community and other user groups. Large mataitai are promoted as a means of ensuring overall fisheries sustainability.

But there is a cost. Large mataitai applications come at the expense of other rights to fisheries. Commercial fishing is not allowed in mataitai. Any activity related to commercial fishing is not allowed. The status of marine farming is unclear. Who knows what future opportunities for commercial fishing and marine farming are being given up in the rush to large mataitai.

Recreational fishing loses out badly with the rush to large mataitai. Recreational fishing operates by way of a common law tradition handed down since time immemorial. Common law gives the public right of access to sea fisheries.

The Ministry of Fisheries downplays the effects mataitai applications on recreational fishing rights. Recreational fishers are advised that a mataitai “does not exclude recreational fishing” and “does not require recreational fishers to obtain permits or prevent non-Maori from fishing.”

The Ministry’s smooth assurances encourage recreational fishers to support mataitai applications. The opportunity to trump the commercial fishing sector must seem heaven sent.

What recreational fishers are not told is that they give up their precious common law rights. All recreational fishing in a mataitai is by way of privilege granted by the Maori owners. The very nature of privileges means they can be revoked at will.

The Tangata Tiaki / Kaitiaki can make by-laws that determine the what, how, when, and where of fishing. Recreational can be excluded either by species or through a general closure. Iwi, hapu and whanau are exempt: mataitai by-laws don’t apply to fishing under customary rules.

It’s one thing for recreational fishers to give up common law rights over particular shell beds and reefs. However it’s a very different story when it comes to giving up common law rights over thousands of hectares of prime recreational fishing area and tens of kilometers of coastline.

Parliament never envisaged this sort of madness. Privileges are no substitute for rights. Only a fool would trade away common law rights to fish recreationally over huge areas of coastal water in return being granted a privilege based on someone else’s preferences.

The important point here is that mataitai are no longer what Parliament intended. And no one is accountable. Politicians of the day, like Sir Douglas Graham, gave assurances that mataitai would be small and discrete areas. Now they don’t want to know and don’t care.

Mataitai are an important lesson for weighing up Maori claims to foreshore and seabed. It’s a bit like social welfare. The more you give the more that’s wanted.

The current generation of New Zealanders has bent over backwards in meeting Treaty claims to fisheries. We now have:

  • Common law recreational fishing rights for everybody including Maori
  • Commercial quota rights available for anybody who wants to buy them (Maori own about 50% plus Maori get 20% of any new species coming into the quota system )
  • Marine farming rights for anybody who wants to buy or create them (plus Maori get 20% of any new marine farming space)
  • Customary fishing rights that are not restricted by the size, bag and gear limits that apply to recreational fishing by other New Zealanders (under customary fishing Maori can, and do, take any number of undersize paua)
  • Taiapure-Local fisheries which give customary Maori area management rights
  • Mataitai which give customary Maori ownership of traditional fisheries

This generation of Maori have done very well out of Treaty claims to fisheries. Much of the redress has been on a fair and reasonable basis. Claims to large mataitai do not fit this model. Customary claims to large mataitai are at the expense of public and private rights to existing and future fisheries. In similar fashion customary claims to foreshore and seabed are the expense of existing and future public rights to free use and enjoyment.

You can’t blame Maori – they are out for what they can get. They want the foreshore and seabed because they think somebody in government will be foolish enough to give it to them.

Rights lose their value when no one defends them from attack. There is now an odd view in government that non-Maori rights are of no value – a sort of bureaucratic racism. Whatever the claims of Maori they must not ride roughshod over public and private rights.

What to do. The strategy is simple. Take a lesson from Maori. When Maori want results they resort to direct action.