Te Kahu o Taonui, a collective of Te Tai Tokeraui iwi chairs and CEOs (representing Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu, NgāiTakoto, Ngāpuhi, Kahukuraariki, Whangaroa, Ngāti Wai and Ngāti Whatua ki Kaipara) has acknowledged the government's comprehensive ban on all non-essential fishing activities as part of its Covid-19 measures.

But while it understood that directive, Ngāti Kahu chair Margaret Mutu said there was growing unease in Te Tai Tokerau about the government's "heavy handed and unco-ordinated approach to the application of law," especially when it came to interfering with the traditional fishing needs of iwi and whānau.

"Commercial fishing is deemed essential, while traditional fishing for subsistence has been wrongly lumped in with recreational fishing, and is considered non-essential," Professor Mutu said.

"We do not wish to flout the law, however, this misapplication of law discriminates and further disadvantages our whānau for whom kaimoana remains a basic and affordable dietary staple."

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Harry Burkhardt (Ngāti Kuri), chairman of the Pandemic Response for Te Kahu o Taonui, agreed that, as a collective, Te Kahu o Taonui acknowledged, understood and accepted government concerns about potential accidents necessitating emergency service callouts, but a number of factors had not been fully canvassed with iwi partners in reaching the decision to effectively ban customary kaimoana gathering.

Those issues included the fact that, for whānau, kaimoana gathering had played a significant role as, and at times for many their only food source; that kaimoana gathering could be framed in a similar way as the current Covid-19 practices for whānau visiting any supermarket, including a conscious application of social distancing and personal hygiene practices; and that the ban risked criminalising people who were harvesting kai.

"As a collective, we call on the government to modify the current fishing restrictions, and to class customary fishing as essential work, with the proviso that it be limited to shore fishing and kaimoana gathering," he added.