Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē locals want a temporary rāhui on commercial fishing activity along the coast until the government can guarantee a robust environmental protection process.
Ahipara resident Rawhiti Waiti says if something drastic isn’t done immediately to stop the reckless behaviour of some companies, the locals will 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."
Waiti captured footage of heavy machinery collecting seaweed for mussel spat on the shoreline and says he posted it online so people could see the ‘pillaging’ for themselves.
Te Aupōuri kaumātua Joe Conrad says waahi tapu have been desecrated, fish stock have dwindled and tuatua and toheroa beds have 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.
Te Ao news asked if the footage Waiti posted and the number of heavy vehicles was a concern for them, MPI responded in a statement saying the commercial spat farmers were not breaking the law.
"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.
But, Rawhiti Waiti says locals know their coast and the operators he filmed were working directly over a local tuatua bed.
“Those are our tuatua beds from Waipapa Kauri ramp down to Ahipara and for a lot of us that’s our pātaka kai, that’s our mahi maataitai where we gather our kaimoana.”
Conrad says he has had conversations with MPI and says they too are concerned, but he also firmly believes the enforcement of codes of practice are poorly resourced and underfunded.
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 Tohe Iwi and quota owners came together to develop a draft Te Oneroa A Tohe Green-lip mussel plan, including a harvesting code of practice, that set out the rules for spat collection.
"We are listening to the community concerns and have formed a new working group with Te Oneroa a Tohe Iwi and MPI to review that plan to make sure our harvesting is responsible, sustainable, safe and appropriately respects iwi and community values.
"Local people have been collecting spat on Te Oneroa A Tohe for the past 35 years. But there is still misunderstanding about the process. Spat collection is regulated by the Quota Management System (QMS) and west coast Iwi who have coastline between Cape Reinga and Mokau were collectively allocated 20% of the quota. “
Te Taitokerau MP Kelvin Davis says he was made aware of the issue by his Kaitaia office and the matter had been referred to the MInister of Fisheries.
Green Party co leader Marama Davidson spoke to Te Ao news from Hokianga and expressed her support for communities along Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē.
She said she would also be expressing her concern to the Minister of Fisheries and would advocate for them in parliament. Davidson said iwi and their call for a rāhui should not be ignored.
“Our tools, like rāhui, are a part of our tikanga Māori tools that would actually ensure we have the best conservation plan possible to protect the coastline.”
Chair of Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē Governance Board, Haami Piripi said hui had begun to assess and help build and maintain a stringent and effective strategy and management plan to ensure the protection of Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē.
Joe Conrad believes education is key, but he is clear on what he expects people to do along the shoreline he calls home.
“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."
Aquaculture New Zealand says it will meet with iwi representatives to discuss a way forward this month.