Local people see and care most? Severe depletion of inshore fisheries and its consequences for Māori communities in New Zealand



  1. Overfishing has the potential to adversely affect the ecological stability, economic value, social and spiritual integrity of a given area. Of these contexts, relatively little emphasis in literature is placed on the social and cultural consequences of overfishing and marine biodiversity loss.
  2. New Zealand's fisheries management system is regarded as one of the best in the world. But is this ‘success’ reflected at the local community scale? This study uses the knowledge of 100 participants from different stakeholder groups including Māori, New Zealand's indigenous peoples, and investigates local perception of the state of inshore fisheries stocks.
  3. Quantitative methods were used to assess the relative significance of important seafood species among different groups, while qualitative analysis highlighted main stakeholder concerns. A common consensus among all participants emerged; access to important inshore seafood species had become more difficult during the course of their lifetime with marked declines occurring from the 1970s onwards. Even where food species are present, they are typically harder to obtain, take longer to harvest and/or require expensive gear.
  4. Five species of marine invertebrates, three finfish species and one seabird were identified as having considerable worth to stakeholders. Of these, quantitative analysis revealed that pāua (abalone), tuna (eel) and tītī (muttonbird) were of particular significance to Māori stakeholders. Māori discussed pāua almost twice as much as non-Māori, despite pāua ranking as the most significant species among both ethnic groups. Furthermore, Māori associated the depletion of pāua with a loss of cultural identity, hospitality, tradition, practices, emotional and spiritual connection to their environment. As such, in this paper pāua is defined as a ‘cultural keystone species’, whereby the removal of such a species jeopardizes cultural integrity.
  5. This paper serves as a case study bringing to light the disparity between an internationally acclaimed fisheries management strategy and the concerns of local stakeholders.

Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.