History of the Maori of Aotearoa - New Zealand|
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 98 23:12:07 CST
From: email@example.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: New Zealand Gov't Tries To Limit Maori Fighing Rights
New Zealand Gov't Tries To Limit Maori Fishing Rights
By Janet Roth, in the Militant
Vol. 62, no. 6 (16 February 1998)
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - On December 23 last year, fisherman
John Hikuwai landed 7.7 tons of snapper, claiming this was
legal under Maori customary fishing rights.
A storm of controversy raged nationally in the weeks
following. Spokespeople for the government parties, National
and New Zealand First, as well as the right-wing party ACT, the
opposition Labour Party, and representatives of commercial
fishing interests, led the charge in calling for the government
to limit customary fishing by Maori.
Hikuwai is the skipper of a hired boat, the James O'Brien,
one of six vessels registered with the Confederation of Chiefs
of the United Tribes of New Zealand. His catch was distributed
to marae (tribal meeting places) in Auckland and Northland in
exchange for a donation, usually cash. Legally, fish caught for
customary purposes cannot be sold.
He and the confederation have stood firm in defending their
actions. "As Maori we have a right to survive off the sea,
especially coastal tribes. There is no way people can stop us
making a living from the sea," Hikuwai said. "It's about our
birthright to use and protect what is ours, our assets. Tino
rangitiratanga [Maori sovereignty] over our whenua [land], our
peoples, our kaimoana [seafood].. everything."
The confederation announced that the James O'Brien was
continuing fishing and that further large quantities of fish
would be available for distribution to marae.
On January 19 the Ministry of Fisheries seized the James
O'Brien. The next day the government announced new interim
rules to crack down on Maori exercising their customary fishing
Hikuwai argued that the vessel was operating within the law
and accused the ministry of "piracy and high treason in seizing
All commercial fishing is governed by a quota system, which
determines how much fish and what species each company or
independent operator is entitled to catch. Introduced in 1986,
quotas were allocated according to previous catch records. This
favored the biggest companies and left many small fishers with
quotas too small to live on. Thousands were driven out of the
industry. Those left mostly buy or lease quotas from the big
companies in return for selling their fish exclusively to that
In 1992 the government brought in new legislation following
what is known as the Sealords deal, in which Maori tribal
authorities gave up all claims to ownership of commercial
fisheries. In exchange, in a one-off settlement, they were
given fishing quota, major shares in fishing companies, and
cash. This deal has been an ongoing source of debate, over how
the settlement is allocated and the character of the settlement
Under this agreement, regulations governing noncommercial
customary fishing by Maori were to be implemented also,
following further negotiations. The government has now
formulated regulations, which it is pushing to have introduced
by the end of April.
These regulations will require anyone who wants to collect
fish or seafood under customary rights to apply in writing in
advance for permission from an especially appointed guardian.
Any permit granted would state exactly what could be collected,
where, and by whom, and the catch could not be sold. The
Ministry of Fisheries say they will enforce the regulations and
prosecute those who breach these rules.
A number of tribal authorities have signed up to the
regulations, while others are calling for further negotiations
because they claim that Maori, not the government's fisheries
ministry, have the right to manage and enforce customary
fishing. They also want the right to control all fishing - not
just customary - in areas set aside as special Maori reserves.
Negotiations broke down at the end of 1997.
The Ministry of Fisheries tried to prosecute Hikuwai and
another confederation fisherman last year, but failed because
of the lack of rules on customary fishing.
The quota system and limits on customary fishing are
portrayed as necessary to conserve fish stocks. In reality, as
fishing has become a major capitalist export industry over the
past decade, the needs of the major companies are put ahead of
preservation of the resource.
Last year representatives of the fishing industry succeeded
in preventing the government from cutting the snapper quota by
40 percent, despite a dramatic drop in the number left of this
species. Fishing boats regularly dump species they catch for
which they do not hold a quota.
Calling for regulations to limit Maori customary fishing,
the chairman of the Auckland Inshore Commercial Fishermen's
Association, Maurice Ashby, claimed, "If this situation is
allowed to continue, with Maori taking as much fish as they
want when they want, then the quota management system no longer
has any integrity."
The New Zealand Herald editors fumed, "The country now pays
for the government's lack of intestinal fortitude in resolving
the controversial issue of Maori customary fishing rights."
Hikuwai explained, however, "What we have been taking is
nowhere near what those with quotas and the black marketeers
have. A few tons might sound like a lot, but once you divide it
up among the [confederation] members in the North Island, it
does not really go that far at all."
Hikuwai has called for the whole quota system to be
scrapped because it is unfair to Maori.
In another challenge, supporters of customary fishing
rights set up a refrigerated trailer in the Northland town of
Kaeo from which residents could give a cash donation in
exchange for fish. The Ministry of Fisheries immediately
confiscated the trailer and arrested a confederation fisherman,
John Ututaonga, for obstruction.
"We are not going to stop," explained Ututaonga. "It is
survival time. Everything in the sea is being killed. It is the
commercial sector that is raping and killing. We only take for
our needs. We want to feed our own people."
Confederation supporters have pointed to the importance of
fish being made available to Maori on a donation basis because
of the high unemployment in Northland, where the confederation
Northland, with a large Maori population, has the second-
highest unemployment rate for any region in the country.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for Maori is 18.2 percent
compared to 4.5 percent for white New Zealanders.
A January 22 meeting of Northland tribal representatives,
which was called to discuss the confederation's activities,
appointed a negotiator to restart talks with the government on
customary fishing regulations. The confederation rejected this
and said it would continue fishing as it had been.
Meanwhile, Maori on the East Coast are occupying land at
Lake Waikaremoana and at Waimana, outside the Urewera National
Park, in protest against the Department of Conservation's
administration of the areas. This includes its lack of
protection of native birds and use of a pesticide called 1080
Six of the Waimana protesters were arrested on January 20
on charges they were blocking a bridge.
Janet Roth is a member of the Service and Food Workers
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