Rāhui spreads along coast in shellfish 'crisis'

7:45 am on 5 March 2022

The tribal ban on collecting kaimoana is expanding along the Taranaki coast as more hapū try to protect paua and other shellfish stocks.

Wharehoka Wano says Te Kāhui o Taranaki is backing hapū over choosing rāhui

Wharehoka Wano says Te Kāhui o Taranaki is backing hapū over choosing rāhui. Photo: LDR / Craig Ashworth

The rāhui (closed season) was placed by the 10 hapū of Ōrimupiko marae near Ōpunakē in January, and now hapū of other marae pā of Taranaki iwi are joining.

Originally covering some 10 kilometres of coast centred on Ōpunakē, the rāhui now covers at least 40km after hapū of marae as far north as Parihaka also declared their kaimoana off limits.

A further extension as far north as Ōākura is being considered by Ngā Mahanga a Tairi hapū of Puniho Pā and Okorotua marae.

While the rāhui has no legal force, whānau patrolling the coast say most people are heeding the ban, which currently lasts until 31 July.

Parihaka kaumātua and former MP Te Whakamaharatanga Okeroa said the rāhui "is essentially an act of desperation".

"It's us responding to what we consider to be a crisis - to not do anything about it to me is not an option at all."

Te Whakamaharatanga Okeroa says the rāhui is a desperate bid to deal with a crisis

Te Whakamaharatanga Okeroa says the rāhui is a desperate bid to deal with a crisis. Photo: LDR / Craig Ashworth

While the rāhui is in place, the collective hapū are also considering applying for a legal temporary closure of the area under section 186 of the Fisheries Act.

Okeroa said Pākehā locals share the hapū desperation and that is crucial if an official ban is sought.

"They share the same concerns about the conservation of our food - they too are very worried about continued depletion of our food resource that we hold almost sacredly.

"That's a cornerstone of us going forward. If we go to the 186 legislation then we need to show the minister and ministry that it's a community public concern, widely held."

The problem has been growing since the New Year period of 2021, when 56 vehicles were seen at the end of Arawhata Road. By New Year 2022 the fleet had grown to 76 vehicles.

Okeroa said there have been busloads of 30 manene (foreigners or immigrants), each taking at least their quota of 10 pāua each low tide.

"Thirty people so that's 300 pāua. That's just one bus to say nothing of 70 other cars down here.

"They stay here for a weekend and they come down sometimes twice a day on the tides."

He said the visitors had a different view of conservation, taking not just pāua but all sorts of other shellfish and octopus, and even scraping rocks clear of limpets.

"This provides a challenge to who we are, beliefs that we have been brought up with, especially a respect for Tangaroa in this case."

The hapū of Ōrimupiko have had professional signs erected along their coast, and pamphlets printed explaining the rāhui.

More than 40 volunteer kaitiaki (stewards) wear branded hi-viz vests to approach visitors and educate them about the rāhui.

Kaitiaki (stewards) are educating kaimoana gatherers over more than 40km of coastline

Kaitiaki (stewards) are educating kaimoana gatherers over more than 40km of coastline. Photo: LDR / Craig Ashworth

Kuia Tapukura Young volunteered because she can see from her Kina Road home who goes to the beach.

Her grandson, 16-year-old Sean Young, became a kaitiaki after his kui invited him to see what was happening.

Although a few kaimoana gatherers have been aggressive to kaitiaki, Tapukura and Sean Young said most responded well to the guidance.

"They see all the signs we've put up now, and they've realised they have to respect it now and let the kai regenerate and make it more accessible hopefully when the rāhui lifts," said Tapukura Young.

apukura Young and her grandson Sean are kaitiaki at Kina Road

Tapukura Young and her grandson Sean are kaitiaki at Kina Road. Photo: LDR / Craig Ashworth

The tumuwhakarito (chief executive) of Te Kāhui o Taranaki, Wharehoka Wano, said the iwi organisation's role is to support hapū.

"Things like this kaupapa need to be socialised… Each of our hapū need to have their own hui and decide which way they're going to approach it."

Wano said while some were yet to finalise their decision, most of them were definitely in support.

"We've had people from out of our rohe, that don't understand our tikanga, and some of them are from overseas, that come in here and because they don't understand the nature of protection of our seafood resource they're just coming in and having a free-for-all really."

Te Kāhui o Taranaki had helped with printing and signage, and working with other agencies such as the Ministry of Primary Industries, which controls fisheries.

Wano said MPI are under resourced and stretched.

"MPI for how they're resourced it's probably as much as they can do. They have a big coastline to police from Mōkau to Whanganui… and for three or four staff to police that - the reality is it's difficult."

He said Te Kāhui would help with any section 186 application.

Te Whakamaharatanga Okeroa said meanwhile hapū would find it very difficult not to have kaimoana as part of manaakitanga (hospitality) at gatherings like tangihanga.

But he said community support could not be expected if the customary permit system continued under the rāhui.

"If we are to retain the integrity of what we do, my view is everyone is covered by the closure.

"You're preserving it for everyone so everyone needs to starve a little, to go without something, in order to have something in the future."

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