Friday, August 24, 2012

Okarito Marine and Mataitai Reserves

This year we've had major change in the legal status of our coastline and lagoon.  A new marine reserve is  agreed but not yet gazetted to include Three-mile, Five-mile and Waiho beaches.  A mataitai reserve covers Okarito lagoon and a short distance of the coastline about the lagoon entrance.

The process to create a marine reserve was driven by central government although they appointed a West Coast Forum to come up with the detail.  The goal was to have 10% of the coastline reserved, ostensibly to fulfill NZ's international responsibilities, but this has not been achieved.

As is the norm with resource matters these days, the process was an excessively drawn out battle between conservation interests and the fishing industry.  Local people's wishes were very much a sideshow; a re-run of what happened in the forest industry battles of last century.  Most local people from Okarito, liked the idea of marine reserves but their submissions as to boundaries etc. were largely ignored.

What really set off our alarm bells was the greenies idea that half of Okarito lagoon should be included in the reserve.  That in our view was ridiculous because it would have meant a split management regime for the lagoon and cut our food gathering resources in half.  By sheer good luck that idea was canned because the government took the lesser of two strategic options over the total area of reserves.

The whole process required having to submit on THREE occasions.  However,  it focussed our attention on fishing activities we had taken for granted.  Local wild food is so important to the identity of a place and where people choose to live.  At Okarito we have local shellfish and fish resources which broadly come under the challenger fishery zone regulations.  They cover a vast area of widely different local habitats.  We felt that those global catch guidelines are often inappropriate at a local level and impossible for us to have any influence on.

Gathering kaimoana in the Okarito Mataitai.
This is where the mataitai reserve enters the picture.  Our local tangata whenua,  Te Runanga o Makaawhio, raised a Mataitai proposal and after a good deal of thought locals liked the idea. The big attraction was the fact that it was locally generated and not imposed from abroad.

Let me explain briefly for those of you unfamiliar with mataitai reserves.  While they exist under the the fisheries act, they are not a marine reserve.  Rather their purpose is to recognise traditional Maori fishing grounds and provide for management of the customary food gathering by the local tangata whenua.  They generally exclude commercial fishing but allow for recreational fishing without permits by Maori and non-Maori alike.  Best of all, from our point of view, they allow for management of seafood by locals.

Makaawhio now may nominate someone as guardian, tangata tiaki/kaitiaki, for the reserve who can recommend local rules for sustainability.  As always, final control rests with the Minister of Fisheries who will undertake an "extensive consultation process" over local rules - God spare us that!

We hope commonsense will prevail and local Maori and paheka alike can feel they have the major say in the enjoyment and sustainability of their local fishery resources.

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