Covid-19: Isolated communities want permission to fish

12:49 pm on 6 April 2020

Whānau who live by the sea and rely on it to put food on the table are urging the government to ease up on fishing bans during the lockdown.

Great Barrier Island, looking down onto Orama's Bay.

Aotea Great Barrier Island. Photo: 123RF

Isolated communities on Aotea Great Barrier Island are backing that call.

Kelly Klink lives there, and said it could take up to a week to have food and other supplies flown in.

"We've relied on online shopping, so we're looking at about a week before we can get a slot to order food and then we've got to travel down to the airport to pick it up.

"If we have to go to the local dairy, for those in the North, there's only one and that's a good half an hour drive. With the prices of petrol, paired with the prices of food at the moment, it's so expensive."

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She said for many whānau on the island, fishing or diving for kai was the only practical option.

"Our people live by the water, it's not like they're going to be driving to the beach. They will just be walking out their front doorsteps, going to the rocks and catching a fish, enough for a feed, and coming home.

"Just enough to sustain them until the next groceries comes in."

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Kelly Klink (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Fishing regulators say they understand the importance of kaimoana to communities in New Zealand, but Ministry of Primary Industries officials are strongly urging people to avoid fishing - or any activity - where emergency services may have to rescue an infected person.

And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also hammered that message home from the start of the lockdown.

But a Northland kaumātua, Dover Samuels, said the risk of spreading the virus - or contracting it - was far greater at a supermarket than out at sea.

"The difference between going out and not having any contact with anyone, except for the seagulls and possibly the penguins, to that of going into Kerikeri, into New World, and picking up tins of fruit that people probably have already touched, the risk is 100 percent greater of contacting any virus whatsoever than going out on a dingy and catching a fish for kai."

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

He says many whānau in his rohe simply relied on the sea to put food on the table.

"We're not talking about recreational fishing, we're not talking about commercial fishing, we are talking about fishing to sustain the whānau and the hapū.

"You can forget about the argument that the coast guard will be called because someone will have an accident or get drowned. In my eighty years here nobody has ever called the coast guard."

Samuels has asked the MPI and the police for some discretion to be used on fishing during the lockdown, but has not yet received a response.

In the meantime the message from the government remains the same - stay home.

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