Professional Skipper – April 97 issue            back to articles menu

"Our Fishery - Dividing up the spoils"
The Human Rights Act says all New Zealanders are to be treated equal. The Government has just given away 40% of the nation's entire Fishery to a small minority group who make up 10% of the population, for no other reason than because they are Maori. It seems there is one Law for the people and another for the Government, and that equality is a tradeable commodity linked to political expedience.

I see the Government has decided to give away 40% of something owned by all of us, to one select group, and that the decision to do so is based purely on race. I also note that this same ‘select group’ is now fighting over the division of the loot. To mis-quote George Orwell, it would appear that while all Maori are equal, some are more equal than others...  Let me just refresh the picture in your mind, so we all know what we’re talking about. Of the total number of fish allowed to be commercially caught in NZ, the Government has given Maori the right to catch 40% of that total. Maori make up around 10% of the total number of New Zealanders. 10% of the population has been given the exclusive right to take 40% of the total resource. As far as recreational (private) fishing is concerned, your average Kiwi with a boat can go fishing and is allowed to take no more than 9 snapper in one day. But.... if you are a Maori (definition unsure) you can take as many snapper as you like - as long as your tribal elder claims that you are ‘harvesting under a traditional or customary right’ ie for a Tangi or a Hui. A Tangi is a provable event, in that someone has to die, which is pretty evidential, but exactly what is a Hui? It is described as a ‘meeting’, which probably can (and probably will) be extended to mean a gathering at the local pub. I don’t mind being called racist if it makes you happy - words don’t bother me, especially since those who use that expression usually do so only when they have absolutely no rational argument for their position, or are feeling guilty, defensive and venting some understandable frustration - but I would prefer to be described more accurately by using the term ‘equalist’, which is a word I made up to describe someone who supports the view that the use of the resources owned by all New Zealanders should be shared by all New Zealanders, not just a select few. However, it is entirely understandable that those few who will benefit will be strident in defending their case - wouldn’t you if you were about to get a free windfall? - and they won’t stop at attacking the odd symbolic pine tree or silver cup.

I find myself wondering, with a certain amount of embarrassment, what the rest of the world must think. I guess some of them will consider us very warm-hearted, while the rest probably think we’re a bit thick, and have probably made notes in their filofaxes not to invest money over here. Well, you wouldn’t, would you. One likes to think that  those looking after our investments will be treating them with some degree of responsibility, not giving away vast chunks without asking you, and based on some pretty questionable claims. 

I also have some feeling for those that have worked hard to establish an income by using the fishery resource - I haven’t met any that are filthy rich but maybe I don’t move in the right circles - and I see the slog that has gone into it, the ongoing fight to beat the mortgage, cover the costs, eke out a decidedly ordinary lifestyle and maybe, possibly, create a small nest-egg to guard against a bad season without which you can be so easily wiped out. These people - of all racial backgrounds, united in being New Zealanders - have had to create their own opportunity. Some have failed and lost more than they started with. Already hit by over-fishing, operating in an environment with several key business factors beyond your control (weather, fish stock patterns etc), I sometimes wonder how these smaller operations survive at all. If I had worked my guts out and risked everything I own to make my business survive against all those odds, to see others being GIVEN the opportunity to benefit based purely on a murky definition of racial heritage, where most of the beneficiaries of this inexplicable generosity haven’t so much as lifted a little finger or expended one calorie in terms of effort, and without having to risk anything, well, I think I’d be feeling a bit sour on it....

Racist? I have examined my soul and sincerely answer ‘no’. I have worked hard for what I have, I’ve never won lotto or inherited anything, and I make no claim on something that belongs to all of us, other than to share in its joint ownership. I have a favourite book here, ‘Old New Zealand by a Pakeha Maori’ written in the 1920’s  and describing how intelligently cunning the Maori were as a race, back in the 1840’s.

It would appear that, despite the ‘watering down’ effect of inter-tribal and inter-racial marriages over time (resulting in a vagueness of what constitutes a true Maori), they have lost none of those attributes over the generations, and I stand in awed respect at what they have managed to do in their recent negotiations with those officials who are supposed to be the guardians of the resource we have placed in their care.....

However, if you could read this same book, you would understand that the rest of us New Zealanders should in fact feel very proud at what is happening, for it seems that Maori culture (circa 1860) meant that the extent to which someone is punished for some crime or offence reflected the esteem with which the person being punished was regarded - those held in high regard were punished more harshly than those held in little regard. The punishment, a form of legalised and condoned robbery, coincidentally involved being stripped of one’s possessions. A person of great significance would therefore lose everything they owned, and were perversely pleased at being regarded so highly. The practice (defined by the Maori word ‘muru’) was popular and widespread - best described by a direct quote... “the general effect was to keep personal property circulating from hand to hand pretty briskly, or indeed to convert it to public property, for no man could say who would be the owner of his canoe or blanket in a month’s time..... I have often been paid the compliment of being robbed for little accidents occurring in my family, and several times (from a feeling of politeness) robbed my Maori friends, though I can’t say I was a great gainer by these transactions...”

40% of the entire Nation’s fishery? Considering the old Maori custom of ‘muru’, I guess the rest of us New Zealanders should start to feel pretty pleased at being regarded so highly. Based on the events so far, if there is any racism going on here, it’s ‘the other 90%’ of New Zealanders who are the victims.

(Quote taken from “Old New Zealand” by A Pakeha Maori, pages 121 - 122, Whitcombe & Tombs, Auckland, 1922)

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.                                                                                                                       back to articles menu