Spooner was convicted of failing to meet fisheries officer Kelly Pouwhare despite repeated requests arising from concern about the permits he had issued.
Under the regulations, kaitiaki – who are appointed by their iwi – can authorise Maori to exceed normal catch limits and to take undersized fish, but not for commercial gain or trade.The authorisations are issued so that Maori can provide for whanau or guests – for example, at a tangi or wedding. It’s a recognition of their traditional rights as tangata whenua. But the system depends on trust, and Spooner’s conviction is bound to reinforce suspicions that it’s wide open to abuse.
There is a delicate issue here. Given the importance among Maori of obligations to whanau, hapu and iwi, it’s easy to imagine people in positions of trust, such as kaitiaki, being put under pressure to rort the system.In this case, fisheries officers were on to it. But you have to wonder whether other abuses go undetected – and if so, how many.
Can we be confident that the authorities are always rigorous in ensuring the regulations are respected? Probably not, because bureaucrats and their political masters fret about being labelled culturally insensitive – or even worse, racist. Far safer to leave Maori to police themselves and hope for the best.Like the rest of us (indeed, arguably even more so), Maori have an interest in ensuring the protection of vulnerable fish species. If they are genuinely committed to conservation, the onus is on iwi and hapu themselves to expose and condemn anyone who lets the side down by playing fast and loose with the rules.
Karl blogs at http://karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. This article was first published in the Dominion Post.