Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē locals block heavy vehicle access for mussel spat harvesting

By Te Ao - Māori News

Locals have blocked heavy machinery used to harvest mussel spat from accessing Te Oneroa a Tōhē.

They say this is the direct result of their calls to Government to implement a temporary rāhui on commercial fishing activity along the coast until a robust environmental protection process is established.

Pataua Te Pania says although machines are being blocked, harvesters are welcome to continue their work if they gather the spat by hand. This was the traditional method used and remains the best option for the environment.

Last month, Ahipara resident Rawhiti Waiti uploaded a video to Facebook showing a cluster of heavy machinery gathering spat along the shoreline.

He told Te Ao news the trucks and trailers were driving over a local tuatua bed.

He said if something drastic wasn’t done immediately to stop the reckless behaviour of some companies, the locals would do it themselves.

“It might be setting up a blockade on the beach stopping them coming down into our territory especially.  I think our whanaunga at Te Aupōuri and Ngāti Kuri are just as concerned as us."

Te Aupōuri kaumātua Joe Conrad says wāhi tapu have been desecrated, fish stock has dwindled, tuatua and toheroa beds have also been destroyed.

“I would hate for the issues happening on 90 Mile Beach to turn into a similar situation like what’s happening at Ihumātao because I think all our people have a right to protect the land and sea, whether you are speaking on your individual opinion, individual ideas, I think there are some very good ideas out there but I hope the people sitting on the decision committees make the right decision.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) issues and approves permits and licenses to the commercial fishing industry.

Their officials viewed the footage and sent a statement saying;

"The footage shows loaders operating in the surf zone and trucks on the beach will transport the loaders and the collected seaweed and spat off the beach. This is normal, lawful and permitted harvesting practice in this fishery.  The Code of Practice includes commitments to ensure the vehicles used are in proper working order and operated safely while undertaking collection activities.”

According to the Code of Practice issued to collectors of mussel spat they must be aware and should avoid toheroa beds, it also outlines companies should not drive over tuatua beds.

When Te Ao news asked MPI for a response to the tuatua bed concerns they supplied the statement below;

"A study was completed in 2007 that compared the impacts different spat harvesting approaches on tuatua on the beach. While small, that study concluded little difference in the impact on tuatua from different spat harvesting methods. That said, we are aware of the concerns of iwi re the potential impacts of vehicle activities on tuatua beds. We are working with iwi through the Te Hiku o te Ika Iwi Fisheries Forum to understand these concerns and determine if any management controls are needed.

"In addition, the Code of Practice that spat collectors have established includes clear commitments to harvesting in a way to avoid impacts on shellfish beds. Fisheries New Zealand expects operators to follow these practices."

Aquaculture New Zealand is responsible for monitoring and ensuring the code of practice for the green lipped mussel industry is followed.

The agency told Te Ao news in a statement that they recognise Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē Iwi as kaitiaki of the beach, as well as those of the wider community.

“In 2010 the aquaculture industry, harvesters, Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē Iwi and quota owners came together to develop a draft Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē Green-lip mussel plan, including a harvesting code of practice, that set out the rules for spat collection. 

“Behave or we will exercise our cultural rights on our areas on our lands on our beaches and on our resources.  Respect the area, respect the people that live in the area, respect its sacredness to our people.

“90 mile beach is a spirit road to Te Rerenga Wairua, it’s a sacred area and it will look after you as long as you look after it."