Māori Fisheries

The Fisheries Settlement

Fisheries have always been important to Māori. Fishing has provided food, a tradable commodity and a way of showing mana.



Debbie Wilson – runner up, Customary section, MFish photography competition 2008.

This importance to Māori was recognised under the Treaty of Waitangi, with the English version guaranteeing Māori ‘undisturbed possession’ of their fisheries until they wished to dispose of them to the Crown. When the QMS introduced a commercial practice of tradable quota shares, this right of ‘undisturbed possession’ of their fisheries was lost to Māori.

This led to one of the largest indigenous rights claims in New Zealand’s history. After years of negotiation, a settlement was finally reached. This was split into commercial and noncommercial components

In 1989, the first part of the commercial settlement saw the government buy back 10 percent of the quota shares it had allocated to fishers. This was handed over to the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission to be held for the benefit of Māori. Provision was also made for the recognition of customary fishing rights through the establishment of taiapure – local fisheries.

Then in 1992, the government gave Māori a cash settlement that was used to buy half of Sealord, New Zealand’s biggest fishing company. As part of this final settlement the government also promised to give Māori 20 percent of the commercial quota shares of any species brought into the QMS in future.

The final non-commercial settlement also took place in 1992. It was based on the Crown introducing legislation that would allow for regulations to be made. These regulations would recognise and provide for customary food-gathering and the special relationship between tangata whenua, or ‘people of the land’, and places of importance to them for gathering kaimoana. This led to the passing of the customary fishing regulations in 1998, regulations that recognise the control tangata whenua traditionally had over fishing culture and some of their fishing areas.

Along with this, when the government sets catch limits for fisheries each year, it must allow for Māori customary use of seafood for such events as hui, blessings and tangi and other cultural purposes.


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Updated : 31 July 2008