Why are the fish there?

by Ross Nepia Himona



As Minister of Maori Affairs, Parekura Horomia inherits the problem of fish. On the surface it would seem that the central issue is who owns the fish.


Te Ohu Kaimoana has developed a quota allocation model over the years. The model has been gradually modified to try to satisfy as many conflicting interests as possible. The core concept for the model has been "mana whenua, mana moana". This concept has passed into contemporary fisheries thinking as received wisdom. I have long suspected that this "mana whenua, mana moana" concept is really a modernised  construct designed to serve specific ends for specific groups of people.


Having settled on this, they have made the assumption that "iwi" are then the beneficiaries of any allocation model based on the "mana whenua, mana moana" concept.


Sir Apirana Ngata had this to say on chiefly authority:


"The chiefly authority of the Maori was direct, but the descent of that authority was just narrowed to the one hapu and it may even be to one whanau."


The Treaty of Waitangi confirms this observation in stating that it is a treaty "ki nga rangatira ki nga hapu - ki nga tangata katoa"; that is, with the chiefs and hapu/tribes, and all the people.


So it would seem to me that if the modern corporatised version of "iwi" is to be the beneficiary, it may only be so with the active consent of all rangatira, all hapu, and all people that it claims to represent. I am not at all convinced that all or most parties at the fisheries allocation table actually have the active consent of those they claim to represent.


And if the mostly rural "iwi" truly represent their urbanised kinfolk, as they boldly assert, they have been noticeably backward in obtaining that active consent.


Besides which, Maori of all whanau and hapu have been moving to the towns and cities in increasing numbers since the end of World War II. In those 55 years I detect little evidence that the corporate "iwi" have been concerned to actively represent, and actively provide for their urban whanaunga - until the fishing quota came along.


So who owns the fish? Is it iwi, or hapu, or whanau, or rangatira, or all the people? The answer is that none of them owns the fish. Which seems to me to be the central reason why there has not been universal agreement on how to allocate access to fishing quota.


It seems to me also, that there never will be universal agreement while Te Ohu Kaimoana, and its assembled boardroom fishermen, persist with the concept of "mana whenua, mana moana", which itself provides a highly questionable justification for models of "iwi" ownership or control.


So who owns the fish? It is the wrong question I think.


We should ask new questions, such as, "Why are the fish there?" And "Why did Tangaroa create them and place them bountifully in the seas?"


Without being too whakahihi in presuming to know the mind of Tangaroa, one obvious reason is to provide kai for the people - all the people.


The challenge facing this new Minister of Maori Affairs, and a new Te Ohu Kaimoana, is not how to allocate ownership of fishing quota. The challenge is how to use it to feed all the people, as Tangaroa intended.