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Opening the Mataura River Mataitai Reserve

06 October 2006 Speech

Opening the Mataura River Mataitai Reserve

Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton's speech at the opening of the Mataura River Mataitai Reserve at the old paper mill in Mataura, Southland.

I want to tell you the story of a letter I received a couple of years ago. It came from some kids I visited in a small corner of New Zealand. They wrote to me after I talked to them about the potential they held in their own hands. This mostly Maori group of young New Zealanders could be anything they wanted to put their minds to.

And I was delighted those young people felt moved to write to me and tell me how proud and inspired they felt about being told they had a future of unlimited possibility. They had become used to being told they didn't have much of a future. Here's what they wrote to me:

"In our class, we have talked a lot about the sort of 'statistics' we want to be. Lots of people expect us to fail because we are all Maori and it feels like no-one has cared about us in a really long time. But we don't want to fail, we don't want to go to prison and we don't want to be unemployed when we grow up. "We feel really excited now because we know our town can be beautiful town."

I wanted them to know that I believed they should have a future in the part of New Zealand where they grew up. It was my job to make sure their region was vibrant and strong enough to offer them jobs, opportunity and hope. I told them I was accountable for making sure they didn't have to leave the town if they wanted a job. They said: "We know that you can't change it for us, that we have to. But we feel very grateful that you are going to help us so that we can make our town awesome."

And then they told me the qualities of their beautiful town that made it "awesome". Can you guess what it was? They told me: "We have the awesome river, with heaps of tuna (eels) and fish." So when I come to this reserve I am thinking of that classroom.
Just as in that town, here in Mataura the river, the eels and the fish are one of our top reasons to be proud of our community. Pride and confidence that we are from a worthwhile place is a starting point for feeling good about ourselves and making a future for ourselves.

The idea of a place to stand runs deep in the values of Maori culture. It's an appreciation Maori have given other New Zealanders. The river and its bounty are like the blood flowing through the body of our place to stand. So it is appropriate that we are here to honour this river with this Mataitai reserve.

And while we are all here to honour this river, I have to confess to some personal self-interest. You see those kids, in their letter to me, said: "Our teacher told us that smoked tuna is really expensive in Wellington. If you like smoked tuna, we can catch and smoke some for you the next time you are here." So I think they have put down the whero to every community where the tuna run in the river. And I am looking forward to lunch!

This mataitai reserve is the first freshwater mataitai reserve in New Zealand.
Its status as a mataitai identifies this as an important place for customary food gathering. It means commercial fishing is not allowed. Instead, the guidance of the kaitiaki will manage recreational fishing and customary harvest.

The Mataura Falls and the tangata whenua's long history of traditional fishing in these waters make this a special area. History runs deep: The water and prospect of food made sites here a handy place to stop on the way through to the West Coast. The original Maori village of Tuturau stood near the left bank of the river about three miles downstream from the present town of Mataura.
This area was the scene of some historic conflicts.

The first Europeans didn't come here until 1851 - then the township of Mataura was established as travellers crossed between Dunedin and Southland. Through all that time the river has been a constant. And as this fresh water for centuries has yielded tuna and kanakana (lamprey eels), still today food from this water is often on the table at the marae during a hui or tangi.

There are native fish in this water too and its trout have some notoriety. The mataitai reserve arrangement reflects the special relationship that exists between the tangata whenua and the mataitai reserve area. It's a sign of our growth as a modern country that our formal arrangements reflect the relationship. The river flows through ten kilometres of industrial areas, farms and bush. So the community has to work together across everyone who has an interest in the health of this river.

Local councils - Environment Southland, Gore District Council and Clutha District Council - had to work along side DOC, fish and game and industry to develop the mataitai. The mataitai reserve aims to bring everyone together in managing the eel fishery and the factors that affect it. Those relationships are valuable and they are a foundation to the future management of the reserve.
The story of this reserve's creation dates back to 1999, when new fisheries regulations were passed. In 2003 Hokonui Runanga used the new regulations to apply for a Mataitai reserve.

I want to acknowledge the credit that is due to the kaitiaki of this reserve, Rewi Anglem. They say achievement is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. He was the driving force behind this reserve and its achievement is a tribute to his efforts. The vision for this reserve is a vision for an asset that benefits everyone. It is a vision for a healthy fishery. It's a vision where we take care of our natural environment and respect our social and cultural needs as well.

The creation of the mataitai reserve is not an end-point. This is a beginning. Proposals for managing the reserve include an intention to do research on maintaining the river as a productive fishery. We'll need to learn more about the fishery and its habitats. This won't always be easy. For example, didymo has been recently confirmed in this river.

As Minister of Biosecurity I have seen rivers all over New Zealand affected by this disease. Short of killing the river, it is difficult to manage and can't, at present, be eradicated. But it needs to be controlled. Co-operation across agencies and the community will be needed. The tangata whenua now have a custodianship role in meeting these challenges.

We will need to work constructively and co-operatively across the community to help ensure this fishery thrives. I pay tribute to everyone who has brought us to the marking of this date. As the first fresh-water mataitai reserve this event is unique. And I hope the new arrangement is a source of a growing resource - a cleaner river, a more abundant harvest and a closer relationship between everyone who depends on the river.

I hope it will be a source of growing pride to you, as those kids who wrote to me were proud of their river and I hope at lunch we will try some of that smoked eel.

I have much pleasure in declaring this Mataura River Mataitai Reserve officially open and wish all who will use and nurture it every best wish for its success.


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