Iwi still struggling to claim mana motuhake over Te Oneroa a Tōhē

By Iulia Leilua

Te Oneroa a Tōhē or Ninety Mile Beach is world-famous for its fishing and tourism, but for many years now it has also been the subject of Māori concerns about over-fishing and declining shellfish.

Those concerns escalated last month when video footage of heavy machinery gathering tiny baby mussels, or mussel spat, on the beach went viral on Facebook.  It turns out the machinery, operated by mussel spat farmers, were not only legally licensed to take resources, they have been doing it for over a decade.

Many local Māori say it is a wakeup call for the four iwi who share co-governance over Te Oneroa a Tōhē with the Crown. 

Under the 2015 Te Hiku Settlement, representatives from the four Te Hiku iwi - Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kurī and NgāiTakoto - co-govern the beach with two from Northland Regional Council and two from the Far North Council.

The statutory arrangement is meant to settle iwi grievances over the beach stretching back six generations., but Ngāi Takoto has chosen to abstain from its position on the beach management board. 

And last year, the Minister for Fisheries, Stuart Nash, increased the amount of beachcast seaweed that spat operators could take by 50%.  Graeme Neho, Chair of Ngāti Kurī, says none of the Te Hiku iwi were consulted.

“There needs to be more discussion. I wasn’t involved in any discussion,” says Neho.  “Where was that position made to increase it? Was it made within the Muriwhenua region where we’re discussing now or was it made down in Wellington? And that’s the concern that most people have is that decisions are made elsewhere that impact on what’s going on here.”

This pouwhenua on Ahipara beach depicts the Te Rarawa ancestor Pōroa who lived over 200 years ago.  During his lifetime he controlled the beach and moana, however, colonisation and successive governments slowly denied the customary rights of iwi. The pouwhenua was erected in 2004 to mark the traditional relationship between Te Rarawa and Te Oneroa a Tōhē.   Photo/File.

Inequities in Quota Management System

Even before Te Hiku iwi settled their Treaty claims in 2012 (Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa and Ngāi Takoto) and 2014 (Ngāti Kurī), the bulk of the mussel quota allocations for Te Oneroa a Tōhē had already been given out to nine non-iwi Northland individuals and one business in 2004.  20% was held in Trust by Te Ohu Kaimoana for iwi quota.

The Te Hiku iwi, whose relationship with the Te Oneroa a Tōhē goes back hundreds of years, only got a combined 7% from the iwi quota.  The rest went to iwi further south down to Kawhia.

Today most of the original non-iwi quota owners have onsold to bigger players like Sanford, Talleys and Westpac Mussel Distributors.

Haami Piripi, the Chair of Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa, says the government needs to go back to the drawing board on its quota management system.

“This QMS formula that’s been agreed to determine quota management in terms of spat is not working well for us,” says Piripi.  “Much of it is coming from one particular area which is an area in our rohe and we want to know why the people in that area are not able to gain any benefit from it.”

Te Oneroa a Tōhē Spat Pivotal to $550 Million Greenshell Mussel Industry

Up to 80% of all mussel spat is gathered by permitted gatherers along Te Oneroa a Tōhē and bought by mussel farms around the country to breed mussels. 

The spat collecting industry employs some 100 part-time seasonal and full-time employees in the Far North, and generates in excess of $4 million in Far North communities.

Spat harvest from beach-cast seaweed is only permitted to occur on Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē / Ninety Mile Beach which is within GLM9. The area is defined in the Fisheries (Green-lipped Mussel Spat Ratio) Notice 2018.

Historically harvesters have not been required to report the specific location of their harvest on the beach. However, Fisheries New Zealand says it is implementing new digital technologies for the tracking, reporting, and monitoring of commercial fishing activity.

This will provide detailed information on exactly where commercial fishers are harvesting within Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē.

WATCH our story on mussel spat harvesting at Te Oneroa a Tōhē.

Part 1

Part 2