Quashing the misunderstanding around mātaitai

Two fresh water mātaitai were gazetted on 18th August 2018  for parts of the Kahutara and Oaro catchments and were raised at our last meeting. There was a lot of misunderstanding about what they are. 

Mātaitai reserves are areas closed to commercial fishing, that may have bylaws affecting recreational and customary fishing.

Mātaitai history

Their history is long and complex. From a legal perspective, the NZ parliament accepted that their existence is guaranteed by article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi, and from a Maori perspective their existence is a far older expression of Kaitiakitanga – the responsibility of all to care for the environment and the treasures it delivers to us.

From a legal perspective, mātaitai are explicitly embodied in the Fisheries Act 1996 and the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act of 1998; yet their legal existence is much older, as even the 1908 Act had a clause stating “Nothing in this Part of this Act shall affect any existing Maori fishing rights”, without actually defining what those rights were (that stayed in the “too hard” basket for another 80 years).

From a local perspective, mātaitai were a substantive part of the Te Korowai discussions and were explicitly mentioned in the 2011 Te Korowai Strategy on pages 8, 18, 85, 89, 101, 103 and 106.

In practice, they are a right of fisheries management and apply only to NZ Fisheries waters - not to land. They are one expression of the rights to management of fisheries guaranteed in the Treaty. Any restrictions on fisheries expressed in any regulations apply equally to all people.


The idea that we all have a responsibility to care for our environment is common to most cultures.

We all do have that responsibility.

We all need to respect each other, the diversity of approaches to issues that is present, and the environment that sustains us. We are getting better at it, but we have further to go.

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