One month on a hapu-imposed rahui aiming to give marine life a chance to recover at a popular Far North bay is being widely respected.
Public reaction to the Maitai Bay rahui has come as a pleasant surprise to the group behind the no-take zone, who earlier faced strong criticism on social media from fishers opposed to the plan.
The rahui, which was declared by hapu Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri, bans fishing and collecting shellfish at Maitai Bay and adjacent Waikato Bay on the Karikari Peninsula, out to a point about 1km offshore. It came into force on December 20 and will run until March 1, 2020.
Coordinator Whetu Rutene said concerns about dwindling fish numbers were not new but it was the spread of ''kina barrens'' that gave the rahui urgency.
With few big snapper or crayfish left to eat them, the kina population had exploded. The kina were like ''seaweed mowers'' eating everything in their paths and leaving bare rock where there were once thriving ecosystems.
As a dive instructor Mr Rutene spent a lot of time under water so he saw first-hand what was happening.
Maitai Bay was not the only place with kina barrens but it was ideal for a rahui because it was sheltered, water depth ranged from 1m to almost 100m, and it could be easily monitored.
Reaction so far had been ''very respectful'', he said. Before the rahui there were spearfishers and kayak fishers in the Bay almost every day; now there were almost none.
The emphasis was on education, not enforcement, with hapu members taking turns to hand out pamphlets and talk to boaties.
Signs had been installed at beach access points and the Department of Conservation, which supported the initiative, was giving pamphlets to everyone at its campsite.
''People have respected it, they understand what we're trying to achieve. They agree and they support it,'' Mr Rutene said.
Unlike the rahui at Deep Water Cove in the Bay of Islands, a hapu initiative now enforced by the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Maitai Bay rahui did not have legal status so people who broke it could not be prosecuted.
However, Mr Rutene believed the rahui was effective even if it couldn't be legally enforced. It was respected by most people and made them think about their effect on marine life.
''It's embedded in people's minds now. They take what they need, not necessarily what they are allowed.''
A Haititaimarangai Marae subcommittee had been mandated to lead the rahui project, which took just over a year including consultation, fundraising and pou carving.
Marine ecologist Vince Kerr had committed to monitoring the bay for any changes during the rahui.
The no-take zone's furthest point is currently a GPS location only but the hapu plan to install a buoy as well as markers on the land boundaries.
More than 60 people — including other iwi, kuia and kaumatua, and master waka builder Hekenukumai Busby — turned out for the December 20 dawn ceremony and unveiling of two pou carved by Darren Pivac.
The pou represent Kahutianui and her husband Te Parata, tupuna of Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri. The other side of the pou, facing the water, represent Hinemoana and Tangaroa, the female and male atua Maori of the sea.
A small area of Waikato Bay, where local families have traditionally gathered food, is not included in the rahui.