Introduction of customary fisheries regulations for many Waikato River users will be the first real signs of what the Waikato-Tainui Crown co-management Treaty deal means in practice.

From Thursday, the tribe's Raupatu River Trust and appointed kaitiaki will be able to issue customary fishing authorisations, applying from Karapiro to the river's mouth including tributaries, lakes and wetlands.

These permit tribal members to:

* Provide food for hui, tangihanga or marae functions


* Undertake educational and environmental research

* Restore species.

The regulations are a product of Treaty settlement laws passed last year.

Under them, the trust can also recommend bylaws to the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture to restrict fishing on the lower river to ensure long-term sustainability of fish stocks or for cultural reasons.

Commercial and recreational rights for other New Zealanders, will be regulated by existing legislation.

Penalties for those found without customary authorisations include fines of up to $20,000.

Waikato-Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean said the regulations were a step towards a cleaner future for the polluted waterway.

"This is a huge milestone for the tribe and the task of cleaning up the Waikato River for future generations seems less daunting when sectors are working so closely alongside each other to achieve the same vision."


The regulations apply to customary harvesting of all fish that are in the river and are managed under the Fisheries Act 1996.

Effectively this means anything except whitebait, sport fish (such as trout and perch) and pest fish (such as koi carp and mosquito fish).

Predominant fish are mullet, flat fish and sharks near the river mouth, and eels, freshwater crayfish and freshwater mussels further upriver and in the catchment.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forests director-general Wayne McNee says the regulations meet the ministry's commitment to develop meaningful co-management arrangements with Maori.