Ngati Kahungunu have helped more than 500 families in need, from Wairarapa to Wairoa, by supplying them with fresh, chilled fish since the "customary fishing" initiative was launched at the start of the level 4 lockdown.
Iwi chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana said customary fish was normally only for tangi through a commercial koha of 10kg of fillets.
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With the support of hapū kaitiaki and with advice and support from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Ngāti Kahungunu entered a new phase of "Kai Hau Kai" currently known as customary fishing.
"People used to come from far and wide to buy the fresh nutritious fish previously available in our fish shops which are now closed," he said.
"This way we can provide fresh fish especially to the kaumātua and the needy under severe pressure from the massive economic downturn and self-isolation."
Over the last two to three days the team caught 150 boxes worth of fish, with 12kg of fish in each box.
"In the box we have all sorts of fish - gurnard, Moki, snapper, trevally, flounder, sole and others," he said.
"The 12kg box is split into 1kg packets. The community lets us know about the families in need and then the bags get distributed. Some families who have 10 to 12 people in their household get a box, it just depends on how many people are in the family."
The fish will be distributed from Friday to Monday while it is fresh.
Tomoana said he had been out on his commercial vessel catching customary fish for whanau struggling during the lockdown the entire past week.
"We leave at 5.30am and come back at 3pm," he said.
"We are working with the private sector Eastern Fishing and Takitimu Seafoods, the government sector MPI and hapū who have authorised the permits.
"MPI has been supportive and helpful to ensure customary and commercial practices are separated. They have even growled me before, for wanting to take a couple of soles for some dear old souls of mine. They were weighed in, the soles not the souls. Fair enough. We've got to stick to the system."
The landed fish is processed, packed and sent to each Taiwhenua food hub for distribution to those in need, just like it was done in the past, he said.
The fillets, heads and frames (normally the heads and frames are discarded for fertiliser) are packed in "Kahungunu Customary" boxes and chilled for distribution.
"The Tūtaekurī river is named after an event where a kumara blight ravaged all the crops in Wairoa. Hikawera, a young chief of Heretaunga, invited the emaciated whānau from Wairoa to a feast of 70 kuri-dogs which they butchered and cleaned in the river, hence the name.
"What we are doing today is the same. We are nourishing whānau through the provision of fish, much more palatable than kuri. This is manaaki in action-customary practice. It is matched by the generosity of growers, farmers, dairies, supermarkets and individuals who have provided kai for whanau Kai Hau Kai."