Aug. 20, 2019, 3 p.m.
Beach ownership is a continued legal issue for iwi and the government. The ownership of Te Oneroa ā Tohe, Ninety Mile Beach was awarded to Te Aupōuri and Te Rārawa in 1957 but government opposition efforts saw the Māori beach ownership decision overturned in 1958.
The beach and surrounding waters are home to mussel spat which is a tāonga species belonging to the 5 iwi of Te Hiku o Te Ika. It is referred to local kaumātua as potokūkū. Collection of spat has turned into a lucrative industry, and iwi and locals alike are concerned with the management of the Te Oneroa ā Tohe, Ninety Mile Beach.
The actions of mussel spat collectors near Ahipara on Ninety Mile Beach have caused a stir after footage emerged online of a frenzy of heavy machinery driving into the sea to collect the valuable shellfish, an act iwi leader Haami Piripi has labelled as greedy and selfish.
“Seeing these people driving into the sea, gathering as much as they can in the shortest time possible - it’s the epitome of selfishness,” said Mr Piripi.
Ninety Mile Beach provides up to 60% of the mussel spat to the country’s mussel farms with the remaining 40% provided from the Nelson and Tasman areas. An industry worth more than $200m annually.
As a result of the recent Treaty Settlements in Te Hiku o Te Ika a Ninety Mile Beach Governance Board was established because the New Zealand legal framework does allow for the Beach to be returned to the traditional owners. Mr Piripi, Chairman of Te Ruranga who is also the co-chair of the Te One Roa ā Tohe Beach Governance Board said the board needed to step-up.
“The beach board need to step-up and restrict the ability for machines of that nature to be able to be harvesting mussel spat.”
The Beach Board membership is made up of 50% representation from local government and the local community would like to see local government more active in supporting an improved future for the beach.
“It’s become a necessary environmental move for us to preserve the calibre and integrity of our beach,” said Mr Piripi.
Community members hope to meet to establish a collection system with fewer environmental impacts with other endemic and endangered species such as pīngao and toheroa - both of which have a presence along Ninety Mile Beach.