Customary Use – Yeah Right

Some years ago when the Fishing laws were amended to allow Maori authorities to grant customary use permits to Maori, I thought it was a very good idea.

Article II of the Treaty specifically refers to fisheries. Unlike many invented treaty rights, this is very clearly covered and the Crown does have a responsibility to protect this right.

It did this partly through commercial quota allocation, and partly through allowing for non-commercial customary use permits.

For many years though there has been some abuse of the customary use permits. They are designed to allow seafood and fish to be caught for hui, birthdays etc but instead you have abusers of the system catching 1400 crayfish a week, which is clearly commercial use by a magnitude.

The Government simply shrugs and says it is technically legal. This is because the law gives total discretion to the kaitiaki (customary manager) to grant permits.

As the scheme is being abused, there seem to be two common sense solutions available.

The first is to define limits for what the permits can cover. 1400 crayfish a week is simply theft – they are avoiding having to buy commercial quota.

The second is to not have strict limits (as discretion can be useful) but to have the Government sack a kaitiaki who grants excessive permits.

At present there is a total lack of accountability. Kaitiaki have “no obligation to inform fisheries officers of why, where or how any permits were issued”. For most this is not an issue, but a few are spoiling what is a well intentioned scheme. They need to be sacked, or the law needs to be changed.

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