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Principal investigators: Dr Janet Stephenson, Professor Henrik Moller
Staff involved: Rachel Turner, Nicole McCrossin

Summary of research project

Tirohia he Huarahi: Plans, Power, and Partnerships examined the barriers to, and benefits that could arise from, active participation of tangata whenua (Māori communities) in the management of mahinga kai (food-gathering sites). A basic premise of the research is that traditional Māori resource management techniques – including their continued evolution – have much to offer national resource management practices.
Tirohia he Huarahi recorded the experiences and aspirations of kaitiaki from fourteen iwi around the North Island: Te Rarawa, Ngati Rēhia, Ngāti Kuta, Ngāti Porou ki Harataunga, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Te Arawa, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Pāhauwera, Ngāi Te Ruruku, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Raukawa.
Research team members were Prof Henrik Moller, Dr Janet Stephenson, Rau Kirikiri, Jonathan Dick, Rachel Turner and Nicole McCrossin (New Zealand) and Prof Fikret Berkes and Prof Nancy Turner (Canada).

Key findings

A consistent theme throughout the testimonies of the kaitiaki is the losses of abundance and biodiversity in coastal fisheries that they have observed, and the cultural impacts of these changes. At the same time, many iwi and hapū are undertaking strenuous efforts to turn this around, including setting up mātaitati and taiāpure, using traditional management techniques such as rahui, and collaborating with other agencies to try and restore the health of the ecosystems. Their testimonies challenge accepted approaches to planning and resource management, and offer new perspectives on the possibilities of community-based fisheries management initiatives.
The findings have encouraged us to pose some fundamental challenges about the current fisheries management regime, particularly in relation to the coastal fisheries which are of shared interest to commercial, recreational and customary fishers:
Is commercial fishing sustainable? Many of our informants believe that inadequate monitoring and poor understanding of fish population ecology is resulting in an ongoing decline of the fishing stocks and threatens the fishing industry as well as local fishers. We urgently need a thorough and independent review of the evidence as to whether commercial fishing as currently exercised is sustainable or not.
Sustainable for whom? The focus of the fisheries management regime is on the commercial stocks. Are the fisheries being managed in a way that aims for sustainable yield for commercial fishers, while making coastal fisheries less sustainable for recreational and customary fishers?
Knowledge? If it is too costly to carry out the science needed to ascertain the sustainability of 81% of fish stocks, are there other ways that knowledge can be compiled and used to understand the health of the fisheries on a local basis, for example from the observations and records of people and communities who are closely associated with particular fisheries? And what opportunities are there to support wider application of traditional management techniques such as rotation of fished areas and closures for kohanga areas?
Stocks or ecosystems? The kaitiaki testimonies reflect a holistic concern about the degradation of coastal ecosystems as a whole. The disconnection between managing the fish and habitat is a major issue: we can have the best fisheries management tools in place but it is useless if the habitats that support the fishery (including adjacent land and waterways) are degraded. What opportunities are there to adopt an ecosystem management approach for coastal fisheries, as is occurring elsewhere internationally?
Community-led fisheries management? The success of on-land community-based environmental management initiatives (QEII Trust covenants, eco-sanctuaries etc) has lessons for the coastal environment. Currently there is very little government support for community-led management of fisheries, and the available tools of marine reserves, taiāpure, mātaitai and temporary closures have cumbersome processes, serious time delays and lack support for training and access to technical support (e.g. legal, scientific) when needed. What opportunities are there to support community interest and energies in having greater engagement with the health and diversity of their local fisheries? Do some of the management tools need an overhaul?
Scale of management? The QMS fisheries management areas are enormous, and management techniques are not crafted to the more intimate scale of local fisheries and their distinctive reefs and breeding areas. Yet local knowledge and fine-grained management has much to offer sustainable fisheries. What opportunities are there for such approaches to be applied to New Zealand? What would another model of fisheries management look like, which was inclusive of indigenous/ local knowledge and observations, had a better match between the scale and nexus of governance and fisheries, and took an ecosystem rather than stock-based approach?

Significant Publications

Nancy J. Turner, Fikret Berkes, Janet Stephenson, Jonathan Dick (2013) Blundering Intruders: Extraneous Impacts on Two Indigenous Food Systems. Human Ecology (online) DOI 10.1007/s10745-013-9591-y. Dick, Janet Stephenson, Rauru Kirikiri, Henrik Moller and Rachel Turner (2012). Listening to the Kaitiaki: consequences of the loss of abundance and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems in Aotearoa New Zealand. MAI Journal 1(2): 118-130. Moana, Mana tangata: Testimonies on depletion and restoration of mahinga kai. Jonathan Dick, Rachel Turner, Janet Stephenson, Rau Kirikiri, Henrik Moller. Tirohia he Huarahi Research Report #1. March 2012.
Intention and Implementation: Piecing Together Provisions for Māori in the Resource Management Act 1991. Nicole McCrossin, Masters in Indigenous Studies, University of Otago. 2011.
Cross-cultural environmental research and management: challenges and progress. Janet Stephenson and Henrik Moller. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, vol 39 no 4, pp139-149. December 2009.
Dick, J., Stephenson, J. (2012). Kaitiaki and Coastal Fisheries: showing the way to a new model of local fisheries management. Connecting landscapes (NZ Geographical Society Conference) 3-6 December 2012, Napier, New Zealand.
Stephenson, J. and Kirikiri, R., Dick, J., Moller, H., Turner, R. (2012). Governance, planning and management of mahinga kai by iwi and hapū: implications for fisheries management. Growing Green: transformation of farming, forestry and fishing (Environmental Defence Society conference) 6-7 August 2012, Auckland, New Zealand (online at )
Resonance of Māori World View and Social-Ecological Resilience Thinking for Community-led Restoration of Coastal Ecosystems in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Rau Kirikiri, Janet Stephenson, Henrik Moller, Jonathan Dick, Nicole McCrossin, Rachel Turner. Resilience 2011 conference, University of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona. 11-16 March 2011.
Kirikiri, R., Dick, J., Stephenson, J., McCrossin, N., Turner, R., & Moller, H. (2010, November). Cultural consquences of loss of abundance and biodiversity. New Zealand Ecological Society Annual Conference: Biodiversity: 2010 and Beyond, (pp. 117). Retrieved from
Cross-cultural environmental research and management partnerships: progress and challenges for ethnobiology and science. Henrik Moller, Janet Stephenson, Rachel Turner. Society of Ethnobiology Conference: The Meeting Place: Integrating Ethnobiological Knowledge. Victoria, BC, Canada. May 2010.
Science and Matauranga Maori: do they mix? Jonathan Dick. Kingitanga Symposium, Waikato University. April 2010

Funder: Marsden

Total Contract Value: $773,312

Term: January 2009-January 2012

Collaborators: Jonathan Dick (Te Maramatanga Consulting), Rauru Kirikiri (RK Associates)

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