Fisheries have always been important to iwi and hapū.
Seafoods were traded widely among tribal groups and, later, with European settlers in New Zealand. And being able to feed their guests seafood shows the host's mana at important events on the marae.
The fishing gear used by Māori impressed James Cook and other early Europeans. When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, Māori were already trading seafood products into Australian markets.
Fishing's importance was recognised by the Treaty of Waitangi. The English version guaranteed Māori "undisturbed possession" of their fisheries until they wished to dispose of them to the Crown. This idea of Māori fisheries rights was later brought into New Zealand law.
In 1986, the government set up a new way for managing commercial fishing. The system created tradable quota shares in the commercial fishery. Suddenly, Māori no longer had special rights that guaranteed "undisturbed possession" of their fisheries.
This kicked off the largest indigenous rights claim in New Zealand's history.
The Fisheries Settlement
After much debate, the government and Māori both agreed the new system was best for New Zealand's commercial fisheries. However, they spent some time in court before they could agree on how to settle this loss of Māori fisheries rights.
The settlement was split into two parts: commercial and non-commercial.
The commercial part was done in two stages. In 1989, the government bought back 10 percent of the quota shares it had given to fishers and gave this to the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, for the benefits of Māori. In 1992, the government gave Māori a cash settlement that was used to buy half of New Zealand's biggest fishing company - Sealord. The government also gave Māori 20 percent of the commercial quota shares of any new species brought into the system.
The non-commercial part was settled in 1998 by the "customary fishing regulations". These laws recognise the control tangata whenua, or "people of the land", traditionally had over fishing culture and some of their fishing areas.
As well as this, when the government sets catch limits for fisheries each year, it must now allow for Māori customary use (eg hui, blessings, tangi).