As part of a new iwi-led fisheries initiative, a group of Muriwhenua rangatahi (young people) have flown from as far away as Australia to take part in an innovative new fisheries cadetship.
Following on from Whangaroa and Te Aupōuri's visit to Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in early May, the first intake of Te Aupōuri cadets have now started training for an exciting new career in fisheries.
The iwi delegation toured Nelson and Motueka to explore opportunities for mahi (work) in both deep-sea fishing and shore-based factory processing.
Sealord and Talley's hosted the group, who were shown around each of the company's different facilities, including Talley's Motueka accommodation for shore-based northern workers and a deep-sea fishing school at Westport.
Te Aupōuri CEO Mariameno Kingi-Kapa said the initial visit had created considerable excitement amongst Far North whānau and he was proud to see the group starting their new career journey.
"Te Aupōuri was adamant that we move rapidly to give confidence to our fishing partners and to provide hope for our rangatahi," Kapa-Kingi said.
"We all share a deep passion to promote and secure jobs for our whānau, particularly in an industry where iwi are substantial owners."
According to Kapa-Kingi, the group's initial training would run for approximately four-six weeks, with positions already available with Sealord and/or Talleys vessels and factories upon completion.
She said once in employment, the annual salary on deep sea fishing vessels was approximately $60-70k for just 26 weeks of work.
To support the initiative, Kapa-Kingi said the iwi was working closely with the Māori Fisheries Training fund, Te Ohu Kai Moana, MSD and the Westport Deepsea Fishing School.
"This is an opportunity and start of a change of circumstances at their own hands," she said.
"This initiative will increase self-worth, empowerment, attitude and behaviour and will ultimately flow on to changed circumstances for entire whānau."
Kapa-Kingi said a key to the cadetship's success would be to provide an ongoing wrap-around service for the students and to tautoko (support) them from start to finish on their journey.
"We are not wired to travel alone, so when we move, we move together," Kapa-Kingi said.
"This is not a sign of weakness, but an affirming, positive part of who we are.
"Nothing beats having whānau around you when starting something new or doing something outside your comfort zone."
Ngai Takoto kaitiaki Mike Marsden has taken on the support role of "Uncle" for this first intake of students, who flew down with the rangatahi last Friday.
He said the youngest in the group was just 16 years old and it was the first time ever for most to travel to the South Island.
Marsden said with the majority of students coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds, this was an opportunity that made sense on a multitude of levels.
"Some of these young people have never had a job, some have come back from Australia and some are mothers with tamariki at home," Marsden said.
"This process we're going through, it's meaningful, it's good for their health and wellbeing and for ensuring a secure future while providing for their whānau.
"The onus is on us as iwi to bridge the gaps and to work with the fisheries sector, with the support of the government, to build on our forefathers' fight to secure fishing rights in this industry."
According to Marsden, Taitokerau with its collective connectivity held the single biggest quota in the deep sea fisheries sector.
He said this first intake of students had already highlighted areas of need to help make the programme a success and that more support was needed from the Government to ensure the cadetship was sustainable into the future.
"For me, as a tribal member and speaker on my marae I came down because there were concerned parents who wanted to ensure their children were getting the support they needed," Marsden said.
"The feedback has been really good so far from the rangatahi who are really enjoying the training, but more needs to be done in terms of support once they're here.
"Te Aupōuri has been awesome regarding the wraparound service they are providing, so that needs to continue with a fulltime cultural support person here on the ground."
The students are into day three of their training at Westport Deepsea Fishing School, where they are currently undertaking fire safety and general maritime health and safety training.
Peter Maich is the owner of the school where he has been running maritime training courses for more than 21 years.
He has also worked in commercial fishing for around 20 years and has an intimate understanding of the industry.
He said this new programme was a first of its kind and had the potential to open the door to a variety of employment opportunities for the students.
"The students will leave here with a New Zealand Certificate in Fishing Vessel Crewing (Level 3) valued at 76 credits, which can lead to the NZ Maritime licence Advanced Deckhand-Fishing," Maich said.
"Over the years we've offered scholarships and have had various arrangements with iwi, but this is the first one in a long time and has come about very quickly which is really good.
"This group have been a breath of fresh air. They're a bunch of highly motivated people which is really great and I'm sure they'll be successful in leading the way for an awful lot more people over time."
Fishing companies Talleys, Sealord and Sanford are all stakeholders in the school, which deliver pathways to direct employment in on-shore and off-shore fishing, plus factory work.
All companies also offer fly in-fly out scenarios, including six weeks on/six weeks off or 14-week stints for those with more flexibility.
Maich said many industries, including fisheries, had taken a hard hit during Covid-19 and it was his dream to see the cadetship expanded which he believed would be a win-win for all.
"I'd really like to see talk around recruiting around 100 students a year from Te Aupōuri and eventually see that extended to other tribes as well," Maich said.
"The government usually pays for our training programmes, but due to Covid-19 we've had half our funding cut, which makes it difficult to support these programmes.
"It also makes it hard, particularly if students are having financial difficulties and struggling to pay their way during their stay.
"The beauty with this is once they are in employment, people are paid all year round and it doesn't destroy communities because they are not forced to leave permanently.
It's expected an intake of Whangaroa hapū members will also head down south in the coming months.