Managing customary fisheries
Tangata whenua and others can apply to have a fishing area approved as a special customary management area. Learn about the different types of customary management area and how to establish one.
Ways to manage customary fisheries
Tangata whenua (people of the land with authority in a particular place) manage their fisheries under:
- customary fishing regulations
- the Fisheries Act 1996.
They can do this in a way that best fits their local practices.
There are several ways to manage customary fisheries.
- Mātaitai reserves – recognise and provide for traditional fishing through local management. They allow customary and recreational fishing but usually do not allow commercial fishing.
- Taiāpure (local fisheries) – estuarine or coastal areas that are significant for food, spiritual, or cultural reasons. They allow all types of fishing and are managed by local communities.
- Temporary closures and restrictions on fishing methods (Sections 186A and 186B closures) – areas that are temporarily closed to fishing or certain fishing methods.
- Fisheries bylaws – changes to fisheries management rules made by tangata whenua or tangata kaitiaki/tiaki (guardians) for their Crown settlement area or mātaitai reserve.
Mātaitai reserves are developed and managed by tangata whenua. They recognise and provide for:
- the special relationship between tangata whenua and their traditional fishing grounds
- non-commercial customary fishing.
Mātaitai reserves allow:
- customary fishing
- recreational fishing without needing a permit.
Mātaitai reserves do not:
- allow commercial fishing (unless reinstated by a regulation)
- allow landing of commercial catch or holding pots
- affect commercial fishing vessel activities like transiting and mooring
- affect recreational fishing rules unless there are bylaws in place
- control whitebait fishing
- affect access to beaches and rivers
- change restrictions on access to private land.
Mātaitai reserves may have bylaws
Some mātaitai reserves have bylaws that tangata kaitiaki/tiaki (guardians) use to manage non-commercial fishing. Bylaws apply to all people fishing in a mātaitai reserve.
Role of tangata kaitiaki/tiaki
The tangata kaitiaki/tiaki appointed to a mātaitai reserve can:
- issue customary fishing authorisations to allow customary food gathering – not just for hui and tangi
- recommend changes to the recreational and customary fishing rules in the reserve — these may become bylaws
- recommend reinstatement of limited commercial fishing.
Recommendations for bylaws (for recreational fishing) and regulations (for commercial fishing) are consulted on with the public and relevant stakeholders. They need to be approved by the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries.
Establishing a mātaitai reserve
Tangata whenua or the tangata kaitiaki/tiaki of a rohe moana may apply for a mātaitai reserve.
Before you apply, contact us to find out more about the different management tools. Email email@example.com
Approval criteria for new mātaitai reserves
The approval criteria is different for the South Island. Proposed reserves require consultation with the local community and those with a fishing interest in the area.
Criteria for fisheries in the South Island
Criteria for other fisheries
Find out more about mātaitai reserves
Management of mātaitai reserves
MPI's fishery officers enforce mātaitai reserves, and fishery officers and honorary fishery officers enforce any bylaws that restrict or prohibit recreational fishing.
Impact of mātaitai reserves on recreational and customary fishing
Recreational and customary fishing continue unchanged in a mātaitai reserve, unless bylaws are made.
Upon establishment of a mātaitai reserve:
- recreational fishing continues unchanged, under the amateur fishing rules
- recreational fishers don't need to get any additional fishing authorisation or permit to keep fishing
- the whitebait fishing rules don't change
- nothing changes with respect to any freshwater sport fishery (for example, trout, salmon, perch)
- customary fishing still needs to be authorised by a customary fishing authorisation, issued by tangata kaitiaki/tiaki.
Mātaitai reserve bylaws
Tangata kaitiaki/tiaki may ask the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to make bylaws to manage recreational and customary fishing in their mātaitai reserve. Bylaws can only be made for the sustainable utilisation of the fisheries resources in that mātaitai reserve.
MPI consults with the public and affected parties on all requests for bylaws. The minister needs to approve the proposed bylaw before it can be put into law.
- can restrict or prohibit fishing in all or any part of a mātaitai reserve
- can apply to a particular species, area, or time of the year
- can change a daily bag limit, size limit, allowable fishing methods, or require fishers to report catches to tangata kaitiaki/tiaki
- apply equally to everyone, including customary fishers
- cannot be used to exclude non-Māori from fishing.
Despite any bylaws, tangata kaitiaki/tiaki can still authorise fishing to sustain the functions of their marae.
Impact of mātaitai reserves on commercial fishing
All commercial fishing activities are prohibited within a mātaitai reserve, including activities in support of or in preparation of fishing, for example, landing catch and using holding pots. Mātaitai reserves don’t change any rules about transiting through the area or mooring within it.
Tangata kaitiaki/tiaki for a mātaitai reserve may request limited commercial fishing be reinstated (limited by species, quantity, or time period). All reinstatement requests are consulted on with the public and interested parties. The decision to reinstate lies with the minister and Cabinet.
If commercial fishing is reinstated, it must be conducted under the provisions of the Fisheries Act 1996 and relevant commercial fishing regulations. Tangata whenua may not manage commercial fishing.
Impact of mātaitai reserves on aquaculture
Aquaculture (also called marine farming or fish farming) does not fall within the definition of commercial fishing in section 2 of the Fisheries Act 1996. Therefore, aquaculture activities are not prohibited within a mātaitai reserve.
Aquaculture activities, including by tangata whenua, within a mātaitai reserve must still meet relevant requirements in the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).
Impact of mātaitai reserves on non-fishing activities
Mātaitai reserves are a fisheries management tool – they only apply to waterbodies and only affect the use and management of fisheries resources.
Mātaitai reserves do not affect the non-fishing activities of local communities, including private landowners, authorities, or businesses.
Mātaitai reserves and any associated bylaws:
- do not allow tangata kaitiaki/tiaki to control private landowners' land use.
- do not affect land titles or land tenure or change existing limitations on access to private land
- do not impinge on a landowner's ability to exercise resource consents granted under the RMA for activities such as taking water or extracting gravel from streambeds
- do not prevent access to any reserve, beach, or river.
Mātaitai reserves do not change arrangements for access to private land. If anyone, including tangata kaitiaki/tiaki, wish to cross private land to access a mātaitai reserve, they must obtain the landowner's permission to do so.
The relationship between mātaitai reserves and the Resource Management Act
Regional councils must exercise their functions in a way that recognises and provides for certain matters of national importance set out in section 6 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). One of these matters is: “the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, and other taonga”.
The existence of a mātaitai reserve is one piece of evidence that regional councils can use to establish which waterbodies are of cultural importance to Māori.
The RMA also contains some specific requirements about mātaitai reserves:
- Sections 61 and 64 require regional councils to have regard to mātaitai reserves when preparing or changing their regional policy statements or regional plans (respectively).
- Section 74 requires territorial authorities to have regard to mātaitai reserves when preparing or changing a district plan.
For example, chapters 6 to 9 of Environment Canterbury’s Regional Coastal Environment Plan (being updated in 2021) specifically protect values of the coastal environment that are important to tangata whenua.
- Chapter 6 addresses the adverse effects of human activity on areas of significance to tāngata whenua.
- Chapter 7 deals with water quality in the coastal marine area including the effect of discharges of contaminants on the cultural relationship that tāngata whenua have with water.
- Chapter 8 controls activities generally in the coastal marine area and has an objective that includes a requirement to avoid, remedy or mitigate the adverse effects of those activities on tāngata whenua values.
The Northland Regional Council has an objective (objective 11.3) to manage natural and physical resources in their coastal marine area:
- in a manner that recognises and respects the traditional and cultural relationships of tangata whenua with the coast, and
- specifically to directly involve tangata whenua in resource management decision-making where a mātaitai reserve has been established in the area.
Regional or district plans cannot be used to manage the utilisation of fisheries resources to ensure their sustainability, which is the responsibility of Fisheries New Zealand under the Fisheries Act 1996.
Taiāpure – local fisheries
Taiāpure are areas that have customarily been of special significance to iwi or hapū:
- as a source of food
- for spiritual reasons
- cultural reasons.
They can only be established in estuarine or coastal waters.
All types of fishing – commercial, recreational, and customary – are allowed in a taiāpure, unless both:
- its management committee recommends changes to the fishing rules, and
- the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries approves them.
Role of the management committee
When a taiāpure is established, the local Māori community nominates people for the management committee. The committee is appointed by the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries after consultation with the Minister for Māori Development.
The management committee can provide recommendations to the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries for regulations (under the Fisheries Act) to manage taiāpure fisheries. These can relate to:
- species fished
- fishing seasons
- sizes and amounts of fish
- fishing areas
- fishing methods.
Establishing a taiāpure
Before you apply to establish a taiāpure, contact us to find out more about the different management tools available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Proposed taiāpure require:
- public consultation
- a tribunal hearing by the Māori Land Court.
Part 9 of the Fisheries Act covers the process for proposing and establishing a taiāpure.
Temporary closures and restrictions on fishing methods (section 186A or 186B)
Temporary closures and restrictions on fishing methods recognise and provide for tangata whenua:
- customary fishing rights
- management practices.
Temporary closures apply to everyone. A fishery can close for up to 2 years.
Establishing a temporary closure
Anyone can request a temporary closure but the legislation was designed for customary use. To be approved, a temporary closure must be supported by tangata whenua.
Sections 186A and 186B of the Fisheries Act outline the process for establishing a temporary closure.
The tangata kaitiaki/tiaki of a mātaitai reserve may recommend bylaws that restrict or ban the taking of fisheries resources from all or part of that reserve. Recommendations are consulted on with the public and stakeholders, and must be approved by the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries.
Bylaws generally apply to all people fishing in a mātaitai reserve.
They must be:
- designed with a focus on sustainability and preserving fisheries resources
- consistent with the purpose of the customary fishing regulations.
Bylaws can cover:
- species of fish, seaweed, or aquatic life that may be taken
- the quantity of each species that may be taken
- size limits for each species
- the method used to take species
- the area or areas that species may be taken from
- anything else the tangata kaitiaki/tiaki consider is needed for the sustainability of fisheries resources in the reserve.
Bylaws do not:
- affect private landowners’ property rights or land titles
- change existing arrangements to access private land
- change the use of natural resources managed under other legislation (such as the Resource Management Act 1991)
- apply to species managed under other legislation (such as whitebait or trout)
- impinge on a landowner's ability to exercise resource consents granted for activities such as taking water or extracting gravel from streambeds.
The customary fishing regulations outline the process for establishing mātaitai bylaws.
Criteria for fisheries in the South Island
Criteria for other fisheries
Settlements with individual iwi
Crown settlements with individual iwi enable them to make fisheries bylaws for their area to restrict or ban taking of species managed under the Fisheries Act 1996.
Bylaws can be for:
- all or any part of their area
- any purpose necessary for sustainable use of the species
- a temporary or permanent restriction or ban on taking particular fish:
- quantities or sizes
- by using specific fishing methods.
Who to contact
If you have questions about customary fisheries management, email email@example.com