Seal cull to ‘protect seabirds’
Protected fur seals destroy unique muttonbird habitat. By Rachael Kelly.
Muttonbirders want to control protected fur seals, to stop them marauding over the habitat of the small seabirds that have been harvested by Ma¯ ori in a tradition dating back numerous generations.
Rakiura Ma¯ori are to meet Department of Conservation officials this week, to discuss controlling one species to save another from population collapse.
They are expected to push for a targeted cull of the protected kekeno seals, or a management solution to keep them off the 21 Tı¯tı¯ Islands, off the bottom of New Zealand.
Rakiura Tı¯tı¯ Islands Administering Body chairman Tane Davis has written to the Department of Conservation, requesting they investigate methods to control kekeno on the islands.
Rakiura Ma¯ ori families have rights to gather tı¯tı¯ (muttonbirds) on the islands, in April and May each year. About 500 people exercise those rights, and they have whare on the islands where they stay.
But Davis said seal numbers were increasing by 25 per cent a year, ‘‘overwhelming’’ the islands where tı¯tı¯ nest. ‘‘Mass areas of tı¯tı¯ burrows’’ were being flattened by seals, he warned.
Forest & Bird marine conservation advocate Anton van Helden said the proposal to control fur seals was ‘‘ridiculous’’; the 200,000-plus New Zealand fur seal population was ‘‘nowhere near’’ the estimated 2 million kekeno that lived around New Zealand before they were devastated by sealing in the 1800s. ‘‘Culling fur seals is a no-go,’’ van Helden argued. ‘‘We need to consider other ways to control a situation like this. If in fact they are impacting on tı¯tı¯, we have to find other measures to protect tı¯tı¯.’’
Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage refused to comment, referring inquiries to the department.
Tony Preston, the department’s operations manager for Murihiku, said the department had acknowledged Rakiura Ma¯ ori concerns about the kekeno population on the Tı¯tı¯ Islands.
Kekeno had been recolonising areas around New Zealand since their protection under the Marine Mammals Protection Act in 1978.
‘‘We have not yet met with the Rakiura Tı¯tı¯ Island Administering Body or Nga¯i Tahu ru¯ nanga and this will be the first step to get a better understanding of the impact kekeno are having on the Tı¯tı¯ Islands and the cultural harvesting of tı¯tı¯,’’ he said.
Dr Michael Stevens, a former senior lecturer in Ma¯ ori history at the University of Otago, completed a PhD in history that examined the knowledge and practices that underlay the annual tı¯tı¯ harvest, an activity he takes part in.
‘‘The Tı¯tı¯ Islands are not, in my view, the rightful place for large numbers of seals,’’ he said.
‘‘We lost substantial control of managing our own fisheries – paua, fish, and seals – and thus those things are now problematic.
‘‘Where we have maintained control – the harvest itself – things are mostly in good health. This is the result of a whole bundle of established customs that remain intact: only juvenile tı¯tı¯ are harvested and houses on the islands are only built in specified areas where tı¯tı¯ do not nest.’’
Rakiura Ma¯ ori were in a difficult position, trying to protect both the birds and their cultural practices. ‘‘If we cull seals on our islands, in line with our ancestors’ behaviour, we would be breaching any number of statutes.
‘‘However, if we abide by those statutes, the tree life and thus burrow density of several Tı¯tı¯ Islands will decline massively – and we would be failing to preserve the asset bequeathed to us and be passing on a lesser asset to our own children and mokopuna in turn.
‘‘This quandary will be with us for as long as this country’s laws and thus regimes of environmental management are disproportionately controlled by North Island-based and urban-dwelling Pakeha preservationists.’’
Culling fur seals is a no-go. We need to consider other ways to control a situation like this. Anton van Helden, Forest and Bird
Tane Davis, below, representing Ma¯ori families who harvest muttonbirds, says protected fur seals are ‘overwhelming’ the T¯ıt¯ı Islands.