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A fiery sunset from a boat at sea

Tangata Whenua


Tangata whenua, or 'people of the land', are the whānau, hapū or iwi that hold manawhenua manamoana over an area.  

Maori Customary Fisheries

Fisheries are a traditional source of sustenance, economic wealth and cultural wealth for whānau, hapū and iwi.

Being able to provide fish or shellfish to feed whānau (family) or manuhiri (guests) has always been part of the cultural heritage of tangata whenua.

Commercial fisheries have also been important, as seafood was traded widely among tribal groups and, later, with European settlers in Aotearoa.

Customary Fishing Regulations

The Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998 and the Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999 recognise the rights of tangata whenua to manage their fisheries.

These regulations let hapū and iwi manage their non-commercial fishing in a way that best fits their local practices, without having a major effect on the fishing rights of others.  When the government sets the total catch limits for fisheries each year, it allows for this customary use of fisheries.

Tangata Kaitiaki & Tangata Tiaki - The Guardians

To use the customary fishing regulations, hapū and iwi groups must decide who has tangata whenua status. This can be shared by a number of groups. Groups choose people to act as guardians for the area (Tangata Tiaki in the South Island and Tangata Kaitiaki/Tiaki in the North and Chatham Islands). The Minister of Fisheries confirms the appointment of Tangata Tiaki and Tangata Kaitiaki after a submission and, if necessary, dispute resolution processes.

Special Management Areas

Tangata whenua can ask for special management areas – mātaitai reserves and taiapure-local fisheries– to cover some of their traditional fishing grounds.  Within mātaitai reserves, guardians can bring in changes to the rules for customary and recreational fishing.  They can also say whether some types of commercial fishing should continue in the reserve.

 Guidelines for Mātaitai Reserve Applications

Other fishing method restrictions and closures for customary purposes are also available under sections 186A and 186B of the Fisheries Act 1996.

Regulation 27A

Where the customary fishing regulations do not apply, hapū and iwi can take fish for important events through regulation 27A of the Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 1986. This lets marae honour guests by providing seafood at events like hui and tangi. 

The Ministry of Fisheries continues working with iwi and hapū to make them aware of the customary fishing regulations, and to get them more involved in fisheries management in their areas.

Contact us about this page    Last updated 31/01/2017