Pāua to the People

Thirty years and counting – a long-term approach to protecting and regenerating paua.
Nā Hannah Kerr with support from Nigel Scott, Brendan Flack, Suzi Flack, Prof. Khyla Russell,
Prof. Chris Hepburn, Dr. Gaya Gnanalingam, Patti Vanderburg and Greg Kerr.

A bird’s eye view of Huriawa Peninsula in Karitāne. Photograph by Louise Bennett-Jones.

Three pou stand guard along the coastline between Pūrākaunui  and Waikouaiti. The pou represent Takaroa, the guardian of the ocean who made laws to protect the moana and all the life that resides within it.

Tiaki mai i ahau, māku anō koe e tiaki –

If you look after me, then I will look after you.


If you have travelled the scenic route north from Ōtepoti then you have passed or perhaps even stopped at the Puketeraki lookout. As a visitor to this rohe, you may be blissfully unaware of the decades-long battle and tireless mahi that has occurred to protect this coastline, from Ohineamio (Cornish Head) past Te Awa Koiea (Brinns Point) near Seacliff to Waiweke (Potato Point). The area encompasses Mataīnaka, Huriawa Peninsula, Blueskin Bay, Warrington Spit, Pūrākaunui Inlet and the Waikouaiti River Estuary. This place is home to Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki hapū. Our awa, Waikouaiti, flows from beyond our mauka, Hikaroroa, across the land, to Karitāne, where it meets the moana at Huriawa Peninsula.

Located in abundant mahika kai, Huriawa was also home to Te Puna-Wai a Te Wera, a permanent spring inside the gateway of Te Pā a Te Wera, that is still flowing to this day. It is not only a special habitat for the native plants and animals, but also provided a secure refuge from attacks for takata whenua. Te Puna- Wai a Te Wera was vital for Kāi te Ruahikihiki chief, Te Wera, and his pā in surviving the famous siege from his cousin, Taoka. These wāhi tapu that you look out at from Puketeraki are the embodiment of Kāti Huirapa tūpuna and help define our personal and collective identity.

Takaroa pou at Warrington Beach

On 9 March 1992 kaumātua from Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki applied for a taiāpure (a statutory fisheries area management tool, derived from the 1989 interim fisheries settlement) on the east Otago coastline. Taiāpure are designed to “make better provision for the recognition of rangatiratanga and of the right secured in relation to fisheries by Article II of the Treaty of Waitangi” (Fisheries Act 1996, s174). The application was in response to concerns regarding the depletion of pāua stocks in the area and the need to restore this piece of moana for present and future generations.

The application resulted in a backlash from several sectors in the East Otago community and angry locals expressed their displeasure through letters to the editor of the Otago Daily Times. The letters reflected a view that Māori were attempting to lock people out of the fishery and that decisions were being made along “racial lines” that pitted people “Iwi versus Kiwi”.
The East Otago Taiāpure (EOT) was formally gazetted in 1999, and today, Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki (EOTMC) exercises their rakatirataka through the East Otago Taiāpure Management Committee (EOTMC) which is comprised of 50 percent representation from the rūnaka and 50 percent representation from commercial, and recreational fishers, local environmental groups and the University of Otago. Current members are: Brendan Flack, Khyla Russell, Kathy Coombes, Ron McLachlan, Georgia-Rae Flack (Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki reps); Prof Chris Hepburn (University of Otago); Patti Vanderburg; and P.J. Clarke (community). They are supported by takata tiaki, the Strategy and

Environment team from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, researchers, Karitāne locals, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and other Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki whānau members.

The University of Otago Marine Science Department in partnership with Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai, have been consistent in their support for the EOT for many years. Scientific surveys of pāua were first conducted in 2008, led by Professor Chris Hepburn with the support of takata tiaki.

Ki uta ki tai pou that stands on Huriawa, with Hikaroroa, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki mauka, in the background. Photograph by Suzi Flack.

The aim of the surveys was to track the size and density of pāua within and outside the established closures in the EOT, in areas where depletion of pāua was occurring. The survey also helped to establish a baseline against which management initiatives (the closures, reduced bag limits, reseeding) could be assessed. Researchers at this time observed that under one percent of pāua at Huriawa were of legal size. This finding had already been reported by takata tiaki, but they needed independent scientific information to support change. Huriawa was closed under a voluntary rāhui in 2009, followed by an official closure of the site and reduced bag limits throughout the remainder of the taiāpure under regulations, in 2010.

Monitoring is still occurring at 28 sites, including a site at Warrington and 14 sites on Huriawa Peninsula. Marine biologists survey pāua in three depths (0 m, 0.5 m and 1-3 m) of the 30 m-long sites, probably making this the most studied and surveyed pāua fishery in the country.
This research provides an estimate on the density and size of pāua – both ordinary and yellowfoot species. Habitats are also assessed, an approach that goes beyond the species of interest with important data provided for each reef. This data supports takata tiaki and EOTMC to manage the fishery appropriately.

Dr Gaya Gnanalingnam with pāua during research

Surveys in 2008, 2012 and 2016 at sites in the broader EOT excluding the 14 sites on Huriawa Peninsula, revealed a decline in the pāua population. In 2008, on average, 14.1 percent of pāua in the taiāpure were of legal size. In 2016, only 4.8 percent were legal.

In 2013, Dr Gaya Gnanalingam focused on the reproductive biology and management of pāua within the EOT as part of her master’s degree. Observing the pāua within the EOT over two years, she discovered they were not reproducing, despite there being no commercial or recreational take.

The surveys were repeated in 2016 led by the Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai team, with guidance from takata tiaki and funding from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Data collected contributed to closure of Māpoutahi and, combined with research from 2008-2016, led to the EOTMC lodging an official recommendation with Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash in 2019 to prohibit recreational and commercial pāua gathering. This closure remains in place, prohibiting any take of pāua from the entire taiāpure.

These extreme measures are about local takata tiaki exercising their kaitiakitaka in a bid to rebuild the pāua fishery, so future generations can have access to pāua and learn traditional mahika kai gathering skills – something that has been denied to current generations over several decades.

The decisions are being made for the benefit of all people and the generations to come. “If we didn’t do anything, in six years we wouldn’t have had to do anything because we wouldn’t have had a pāua fishery to manage. They would all be gone,” says Brendan Flack.

The past 30 years of mahi wouldn’t have been possible without ongoing funding and support from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Mahinga kai principal adviser, Nigel Scott, has guided information and suggested management interventions. Without this support, the monitoring, closures and connections of the hapū to significant mahika kai locations wouldn’t have been possible

Brendan is also key to the success of the EOT. His leadership, guidance and patience has been invaluable throughout the years, supporting researchers in their mahi and teaching local rakatahi about the importance of our mahika kai and takata moana. “It all comes down to the hard work of the committee, Brendan’s leadership and patience, and our engagement in fisheries law through Nigel’s able support and guidance,” says Chris Hepburn. “The key thing is the leadership of tangata tiaki supported by the community.”

The establishment of the EOT and the closure of the pāua fishery has provided takata tiaki with the opportunity to exercise kaitiakitaka over their wahi tapu. “It is hugely important that our Kāi Tahu whānau and the wider community are aware of the sacrifices that have been made to protect our takata moana,” says local takata tiaki, Greg Kerr.

For past and present members of the EOTMC, it is essential that they share the underlying philosophies of the taiāpure in the hope of highlighting the realities of customary fisheries management from the coal face. Takata tiaki Suzi Flack says, “I’m trying to save and bring back a fishery so my mokopuna and generations that follow, will be able to know the taste of a pāua. When we open our fishery can’t we kōrero or wānaka, so the people who front up know that it takes eight years for a pāua to get to this size… Flourishing wellness doesn’t happen just because you get a feed – it’s not about instant gratification. We need to restore our fisheries and mahika kai back to flourishing, so we can flourish through rakatirataka and kaitiakitaka.”

The fight here in Puketeraki isn’t about “Iwi vs Kiwi”. It isn’t about controlling the fishery. It’s about restoration and rebuilding the mauri of this area so pāua can flourish, and it’s about ensuring that our mokopuna, and their mokopuna can have access to pāua and learn about mahika kai. It’s about Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us.”



Jackson, A.-M., Hepburn, C.D. and Flack, B. (2018) ‘East Otago Taiāpure: Sharing the underlying philosophies 26 years on’, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 52(4), pp. 577–589. doi:10.1080/00 288330.2018.1536066.

Call to close Paua Fishery (2018) Otago Daily Times Online News. Available at: https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/call-close-paua- fishery (Accessed: 02 June 2023).

Inaugural Professorial Lecture | Professor Chris Hepburn (2022). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bASg8ajZZDQ&ab_ channel=UniversityofOtago

Prebble, M. and Mules, D. (2004) Tō Hīkoia Mai Hikaroroa Ki Waikouaiti

= a journey from Hikaroroa to Waikouaiti: A contribution to the cultural history of the Waikouaiti River and surrounding environs. Dunedin, N.Z.: Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki.