The problem with our p¯aua
To eat it is a privilege and to collect it is a tradition, but greed and harsh environmental changes are devastating Taranaki’s pa¯ua stocks.
The days of heading to the beach, scuttling across the rocks and freely gathering your limit of 10 pa¯ ua is nearly a thing of the past. Despite strict daily limits and numerous operations to stop poaching, Taranaki’s pa¯ ua stocks are in decline.
While gathering the shellfish has long been the Kiwi way for those with a love of fishing and cooking – or who simply know Tangaroa will provide when in need – Rawiri Doorbar believes the writing is on the wall for pa¯ ua. The days of taking it for granted are over.
‘‘The environment is not sustaining the amount of casual harvesting that is taking place,’’ the Otaraua hapu¯ chairman says.
In the past decade Doorbar has observed a slump in pa¯ ua stocks along the coast of Waitara, home to his Te A¯ ti Awa hapu¯ .
He says there are a number of reasons for the decline. People are taking more than their limit, for a start. But they are also careless in the way they collect and disturb the reef’s ecology, making it harder for stocks to recover.
Poaching is commonplace and convictions for it are just the tip of the iceberg.
In the past five years the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has recorded
41 convictions for taking pa¯ ua in excess of the legal daily limit within Taranaki. Of those convictions, Kawaroa Reef in New Plymouth has been hit the most, MPI says, but the worst of the offending happened on the reefs near Okato.
On October 9 last year, four gatherers were stopped at a checkpoint on State Highway 45. In the boot of their car fishery officers found four bags containing 736 pa¯ ua. Of those 703 were less than the 85-millimetre minimum. Two of the offenders were sentenced to 200 hours of community work, another was ordered to engage in service to his own community to the tune of 200 hours, and the fourth denied the charge and elected a judge alone trial. They are just the ones that are caught and just one part of the problem. Doorbar knows there is no way to catch people harvesting carelessly because there is nothing ‘‘illegal’’ about that. ‘‘People are just turning over rocks as opposed to carefully looking under them and putting them back where they found them. ‘‘It is like ploughing the reef.’’ Harvested year-round, the black-foot and yellow-foot pa¯ ua, two of New Zealand’s three native pa¯ ua species, can be found in shallow, rocky areas of the region’s coastline.
The only spots exempt from gathering are protected marine reserves Tapuae, between New Plymouth and Oakura, and Parininihi, just south of Tongaporutu.
Using scuba equipment when collecting the large sea snails, whose beautifully coloured shells are admired worldwide, is illegal and there is no commercial fishery for pa¯ ua in Taranaki.
In te ao Ma¯ ori, pa¯ ua is an ‘‘absolute taonga’’, Doorbar says. ‘‘It reflects so much more than just food on the table.’’
Pa¯ ua, known as abalone abroad, is one of the last tangible connections Ma¯ ori has to the whenua and is a recognised part of the culture’s customary make-up, Doorbar says.
‘‘Once these connections are severed, we are that much further away from who we were or who we aspire to be.’’
Doorbar isn’t completely sure how to save the stocks but believes it could start with regular kaimoana surveys and handing over management of the resource to tangata whenua.
Currently there are three fulltime fishery officers and six honorary officers in Taranaki. They have a tough job and are under resourced but the
reality is only a fraction of poachers are being caught, Doorbar says.
The law currently allows tangata whenua to issue permits for customary harvest, which means kaitiaki can grant the taking of more kaimoana so long as it is for customary purposes, such as tangi.
There were 176 customary permits issued within Taranaki in the past five years. But, as per the law, this is where onthe-ground authority ends for tangata whenua.
Nobody can know for certain how bad the decline is. MPI says there is no biomass survey for pa¯ ua in Taranaki.
But one local citizen science project could change that.
Seachange Surveys supports communities in the monitoring of coastal species, and for its pilot project the focus is blackfoot pa¯ ua.
The project, led by residents of Oa¯ kura and Okato and funded by Curious Minds, kicked off at the beginning of the year after local fishermen and members of Nga¯ Mahanga a Tairi hapu¯ voiced concern over diminished pa¯ ua stocks in the South Taranaki area.
‘‘They had no information on how much they have diminished or no reference to work from,’’ marine biologist and project co-ordinator Nicole Sturgess says.
The group has since begun monitoring Ahu Ahu Reef in Oa¯kura, as well as an unnamed reef at Tapuae Marine Reserve to the north.
The data will show how pa¯ ua numbers vary over time, and how they compare with adjacent populations, which is a powerful tool when considering the management of the resource.
‘‘We have got two 50-metre transects which run parallel along the reef. We are placing 10 one-metre squared quadrates randomly along the transects’ line and then we are looking at pa¯ ua numbers and their sizes as well as their habitat.’’
Sturgess hopes to add two reefs to the project every year as well as continuing to monitor the earlier reefs.
Research by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) and Otago University scientists has recently revealed pa¯ ua is also under threat from the effects of climate change.
The research shows increased seawater temperatures and ocean acidification will affect the thickness of pa¯ ua shells, possibly making them less resistant to waves and predators.
Areas in Taranaki that experience particularly high recreational pressure include Coast Rd, Pungarehu, Kawaroa Reef, New Plymouth, Puketapu reef, O¯ eo, Arawhata Rd, Opunake, Middletons Bay, Lower Kina Rd, and O¯ aonui.
MPI spokesman Andre Espinoza says some of these areas appear to be in decline.
‘‘This may be due to many varying factors and it could be a combination of high recreational pressure, poaching, noncompliance, sand movement, algae destruction due to weather and algae movement due to predation.’’
He says fishery officers inspect gatherers on every tide but the future of pa¯ ua comes down to people respecting the rules. ‘‘It does take the [pa¯ ua] population a long time to bounce back so our message is always to take only enough for a feed, not for greed.’’
It is a similar point Keith Manukonga, of hapu¯ Nga¯ti Tairi, south on Surf Highway, is trying to make.
The Okato kaitiaki has stopped granting customary permits. ‘‘The stocks just aren’t out there,’’ he says.
‘‘People want a sack of pa¯ua for the table and I say: well no, you don’t need a sack of pa¯ ua for the table nowadays. You don’t have to eat them for breakfast, lunch and tea for three days.’’
Pa¯ ua are a delicacy and people have to ease off them, he says.
In the past decade, pa¯ ua numbers south of the coast have also dwindled and Manukonga says the major cause is the environment.
‘‘Most of it has been due to the sand coming down Stony River. There was tonnes and tonnes all the way to New Plymouth. It swallowed everything up,’’ he says.
‘‘What couldn’t move out to sea got smothered and died. It is only starting to clear up the last year or so.’’
Manukonga also blames recreational gatherers, both ‘‘Ma¯ ori and Pa¯ keha¯ , local and out-of-towners’’, for the decline.
‘‘When they know there is a good tide, bang, everyone hits the reefs.’’
Placing a ra¯ hui on certain areas may help replenish stocks but Manukonga worries that once such a ban is lifted it would be a free for all.
So, he too is not sure what the answer is but says the obligation to protect the stocks surpasses tangata whenua, MPI and environmental groups.
‘‘People need to take individual responsibility to ensure there is enough for the future.’’
Pa¯ ua stocks across the Taranaki coastline are in a state of decline. Causes include poaching, with Kawaroa Reef in New Plymouth being plundered the most over the past five years.
Harvested year-round, the black-foot pa¯ua is found in shallow, rocky areas of Taranaki’s coastline.
Citizen science project Seachange Surveys has begun monitoring pa¯ua stocks at Ahu Ahu Reef, Oa¯kura, as well as an unnamed reef at Tapuae Marine Reserve.