Ngati Porou customary fishing kaitiaki say their job can be a “thankless one”, with very little reward, but they do it for “aroha”. “Aroha for our whanau, hapu, iwi and marae and for our future generations,” says Tikapa Marae kaitiaki Graeme Atkins.
Graeme has issued customary fishing permits for seven years and with a shake of his head recounts some of the “ratbag stunts” people have pulled to try and “shaft the system”. On one occasion a permit he signed for his area which spans from the Waiapu River mouth to Reporua was used to look for kaimoana from the East Cape's Whangaokena Island. “This type of carry on is not on,” says Graeme. “It's like going into your neighbours fridge and helping yourself.”
Graeme says people abusing the permit's regulations could land him in court. “Due to the protocols and legal aspects kaitiaki could be penalised. If they (customary fishers) get caught being dodgy I'm in trouble as well. “There is no way permits should be used for another kapata kai.”
Graeme says kaitiaki are selected by their marae and hapu and reports back to them and the Ministry of Primary Industry. MPI has a list of kaitiaki and their contact numbers. Marae committee members will also know who their kaitiaki are.
A kaimoana permit is secured to help feed the people at tangi or hui. Permit seekers often request 50 paua, 50 to 100 crayfish and 200 to 300 kina, depending on the number of people attending the hui. Not everybody who approaches Graeme for a permit is given the green light. “You have to be hau kainga. You have to be from the area you are seeking a permit from to fish or harvest. “If you don't whakapapa back to our area . . . you can not claim our resources.”
Graeme says the kaitiaki job is a voluntary role and although the rewards are sparse he feels duty bound to protect Tangaroa from those who think the sea is a “bottomless pit”. He describes his mahi (work) as being a resource manager rather than a compliance officer. “We have to draw the line somewhere. Our paua are being plundered and our future mokopuna are going to miss out. “We all have a part to play in being responsible for our kapata kai.”
The Ngati Oneone kaitiaki - who does not wish to be named – agrees with Graeme. “There are those who want to abuse the sea and I have to be careful with the permits I issue. It's a huge responsibility.” His area is Te Toka a Taiau to the Tatapouri boat ramp.
The Ngati Oneone kaitiaki says Maori lost numerous customary rights through legislation. “The Treaty guaranteed Maori fisheries for as long as we wished to retain them. In practise this was not the case. “Our customary fishing rights are one of . . . if not the last of our customary rights.”
The first law passed to stop Maori from commercially fishing and trading was the Oyster Act in 1866. “That was the first Treaty breach that stopped us from fishing in the way we wanted to,” he says. “However, iwi refused to give up hope and continued to struggle for justice.”
In 1987, the Muriwhenua fishing claim was brought successfully to the Waitangi Tribunal by a consortium of far north iwi, and a Maori property right to the sea was upheld by the High Court.
The court agreed that iwi had never surrendered their fishing rights guaranteed by Te Tiriti.