Economic and environmental history of Aotearoa - New Zealand|
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 97 13:10:07 CDT
From: email@example.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: NZ: Maori Activists And Fishermen Discuss How To Protect Fish Stocks
Maori Activists And Fishermen Discuss How To Protect Fish Stocks In New Zealand
By Felicity Coggan, in the Militant
Vol. 61, no. 32 (22 September 1997)
TINOPAI, New Zealand - Residents of this small settlement
on the shore of the Kaipara Harbor in Northland voted at a
meeting here August 17 to impose an immediate rahui (ban) on
commercial fishing in parts of the harbor.
The meeting was sparked by long-standing concerns over
the depletion of fish stocks. The fish that breed in the
harbor, especially mullet, are a staple part of the diet for
local Maori and other residents. Four local Maori
communities had earlier declared their backing for the ban.
A number of commercial fishermen who work the Kaipara and
are also concerned over the declining fish stocks attended
the meeting and supported the ban. They expect to be able to
continue fishing in other parts of the harbor.
Peter Yardley, a commercial fisherman in the area for 22
years, told the meeting, "I've never seen such a disaster as
we've got on our hands now." He explained that five years
ago, local fishermen drew up their own code of practice to
help conserve the fishery and respect Maori fishing rights.
They established a minimum fish size, increased the mesh
size of their nets, and decided to avoid fishing in the
areas around the Maori communities.
Another commercial fisherman pointed to the importance of
the fishery resource in providing employment in the area.
"We want the fishery for the kids - there's not much work
elsewhere," he said. Northland has the highest unemployment
rate for any region in the country - 9.8 percent compared to
a national average of 6.7 percent. As in the rest of the
country, the large Maori population here is especially hard
hit. Nationally the unemployment rate for Maori is 16.6
percent compared to 4.7 percent for white New Zealanders.
Meeting organizer Mikaera Miru, a spokesperson for
Tinopai Maori, described for the Militant the depression-
like conditions facing working people in many parts of
Northland. Substandard housing, without power or running
water, is not uncommon, he said. High unemployment over
recent years has resulted in a layer of Maori from the
cities returning to family land in the country to support
themselves, also reinforcing the need to protect access to
the fishery and conserve the fish stocks. "The fish we catch
here are very important in terms of supplementing our
income," he said. "We've never sold our management rights or
ancestral treasure - the sea has always been the richest
place of sustenance for Maori people."
Quotas favor big fishing companies
Many at the meeting tended to blame the problem on
fishermen from outside the area, legally entitled to fish in
the harbor, who come to the Kaipara in an effort to fulfill
their quotas. Like many of the local fishermen, they supply
the big fishing companies, have contracts with or lease
quotas from them. One speaker said these fishers use longer
nets, while others said that it was hard to know how many
were fishing and what they were catching because they tend
to come at night. Some participants at the meeting also
raised demands for the government to more precisely define
quota areas to protect local groups of fishermen.
Underlying this situation is the devastation of the
livelihoods of small fisherpeople, both Maori and white, in
recent decades. A series of government moves in the 1980s
transformed the catching and processing of fish into a major
capitalist industry, with ownership of the fishing resource
concentrated in a handful of major companies. Fish is now
New Zealand's fourth largest export commodity. Thousands of
independent fishermen and women were driven out of the
industry, with the few thousand surviving placed in a
The first major change began in 1978, when the government
established a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, bringing all
fishing in these waters under the control of the New Zealand
government. Prior to this, 89 percent of the total fish
catch was by overseas trawlers, with the rest caught by
small fishermen working the inshore fishery primarily for
domestic consumption. Backed by this state protection, New
Zealand-based companies began to increase investment in the
fishing industry, including expanding onshore fishing
facilities. Today 55 percent of the total catch inside the
200-mile limit is taken by New Zealand-owned vessels.
In 1983, a new Fisheries Act was passed which made all
those who caught less than $10,000 worth of fish the
previous year, or who earned less than 80 percent of their
income from fishing, ineligible to fish commercially.
(NZ$1.00=US$0.63). Overnight about 5,500 small fishermen
were pushed out of the industry, with many more leaving over
In 1986, a further blow was dealt to small fishermen with
introduction of the Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ)
system. This designates a maximum tonnage of different
species of fish that each company or independent operator is
permitted to catch. With the quotas being allocated
according to previous catch records, the biggest companies
got the largest quotas. The holder of the quota has
exclusive property rights over the fish stock it covers, and
can sell or lease the quota to others. Today, many small
fishermen have quotas that are too small to live on. Most
are forced to buy or lease quotas from the big companies, in
return for selling their fish exclusively to that company.
One fisherman at the Tinopai meeting explained that he
could earn only $100 a week from his quota, and said he had
been lucky to be able to set up an oyster farm to supplement
his income. Prices for fish have dropped steadily also. "I
get less for my fish now than I got eight years ago," he
The quota system has been portrayed as necessary to
conserve the fish resource. The effect has been the
opposite, however. In an interview in the Sunday Star Times
July 27, Mikaera Miru criticized the quota system, which he
explained forces fishermen to dump fish species they catch
for which they do not hold quota. He referred to Tinopai
residents finding legally sized fish washed up on rocks.
"That's the absurdity of quota management - perfectly good
fish are being dumped and we have nothing. It's turning the
fishermen against each other too."
Damage to fishing stocks
More lucrative but also more destructive techniques of
fishing, such as the use of monofilament nets, have
increased as fishermen compete. The entry of large-scale
capitalist enterprises into the industry has opened new
species up to harvesting, such as the deep sea orange
roughy, and to their potential decimation.
The August 17 meeting formed a committee of local
residents and commercial fishermen to investigate the
establishment of a reserve to allow tribes to permanently
protect fishing rights and control fishing in the area. This
had been suggested by Labour member of parliament Dover
Samuels, who attended the meeting.
But most participants in the meeting were still firmly of
the opinion that some immediate action, such as the rahui,
needed to be taken. The council for the local tribe has not
endorsed the ban however. Chairman Tom Parore explained in
the Sunday Star Times July 27 that they feel it
inappropriate for restrictions to be suggested as tribes are
currently negotiating for shares of the fisheries quota.
These negotiations relate to compensation awarded to
Maori tribes by the government in 1992, in recognition of
the loss of their fisheries, guaranteed under the Treaty of
Waitangi. The Treaty was signed in 1840 by the British
colonial authorities and leading Maori chiefs. The
compensation settlement, today worth $700 million, includes
fishing quota, major shares in fishing companies, and cash.
Its allocation has since become a matter of considerable
debate and is as yet unsettled.
The decline of fish stocks in the Kaipara is mirrored in
other areas and for other species. Earlier this year, the
government imposed a 40 percent cut in the snapper quota,
needed, it claimed, to ensure survival of the fishery.
Snapper is the largest commercial species in the upper North
Island of the country. Scientists estimate numbers of
legally sized snapper in the North Island regions of the
Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty have fallen from around
100,000 tons in the 1950s to 36,000 tons today. On July 22,
however, representatives of the fishing industry succeeded
in overturning this decision in the Court of Appeal,
claiming they stood to lose $300 million annually and citing
the threat of job losses.
Mikaera Miru has called on the government to help enforce
the rahui in the Kaipara harbor. He points to the rahui of
shellfish gathering already in place at other locations, but
thinks that the government "is scared of the flow-on effect
and wants to protect the commercial fishing industry because
it is worth so much more than shellfish."
Felicity Coggan is a member of the Engineers Union.
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