Traditional Māori fishing practices are being touted as one of the "keys" to rejuvenating marine life in the heavily-degraded Hauraki Gulf.
Richelle Kahui-McConnell, who was involved in developing the Sea Change marine spatial plan, said voluntary methods of protection - as used by Māori for generations - based around experience and education were more effective than strict laws.
"When you set limits, and sizes, people will take up to those limits, whether they need it or not," said Kahui-McConnell, of Ngāti Maniapoto.
"Then we get people throwing back a dozen baby fish with half of them dying from trauma, or people fishing in the middle of breeding season, catching the very fish we need to sustain and grow the populations.
"And while marine reserves are important, when done right, you get people fishing right on the edges of them, so if they are not large enough they are not very effective."
Kahui-McConnell, who works as a kaiwhakaora taiao (Earth healer), is promoting the idea of ahu moana, community-based protection plans for specific areas.
They would run from the mean high-water mark to a kilometre offshore, and allow mana whenua and local stakeholders to all work together to manage their coastal area using existing statutory rights and practices.
"Under such a system, with good engagement and education, everybody who was within that area would know when to fish and when not, which species were healthy and which were not."
As they were voluntary, they would require a high level of engagement and education.
"With the various community plans people would be informed about when stocks should simply be left alone.
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"Traditionally Māori would know this, and many fishers today do too, know when the system cannot handle any more.
"It's an old system of self control, passing on knowledge, understanding the ebbs and flows of the system."
The key for ahu moana was getting the "hearts and minds" of communities involved, to be kaitiaki, Kahui-McConnell said.
The idea was included in the Sea Change plan - the first of its kind in New Zealand - which brought together 181 proposals to help stem the flow of sediment and other pollutants into the gulf, ease pressures on wildlife, fish stocks and kaimoana, and restore the health of crucial ecosystems in the 1.2 million hectare Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
The plan laid out steps to "phase out" phase out various intensive methods of fishing, create new marine protected areas, along with supporting traditional rāhui and ahu moana marine areas.
At present there were six marine reserves - covering 0.3 per cent of the gulf - where no habitat disturbance or removal of marine life was allowed in the gulf, and five MPAs where no bottom-contact fishing was allowed.
Kahui-McConnell said while marine reserves were important, they did not sit right with Māori custom.
"When marine reserves are done right, in the right place, with the right habitats and ecosystems and are large enough, they can work well, from a science perspective. But they don't work well for Māori as they exclude customary takes, the ability to continue doing what we have always done."
The Sea Change plan had fallen to the wayside until November last year when Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash announced a working group to advise the Government on how it could implement the proposals.
This May the Hauraki Gulf Forum - made up of council, government and tāngata whenua representatives - sought to rekindle some of the ideas too, and launched a push to have at least 20 per cent of the gulf under protection, with ahu moana and rāhui part of those plans.
While there were no ahu moana yet fully implemented, guardians of the Otata/Noise islands had working with mana whenua, community groups and various fishing clubs to restore their area, which had seen a "massive decimation" of their ecosystem, Kahui-McConnell.
Another traditional system of protection was rāhui. Māori would voluntarily retire areas from fishing and shellfish gathering temporarily, if the populations were determined to be becoming unhealthy.
A rāhui at Umupuia Beach had seen a massive turnaround for tuangi (cockle) numbers which at one point were nearly wiped out.
Umupuia Marae spokesman Laurie Beamish said rāhui, as had been used by Māori for generations, could be used throughout the gulf to temporarily retire areas to allow them to bounce back, as opposed to marine reserves for perpetuity.
"We see that as a potential form of protection, a rolling system of rāhui, and nuanced rules for when the abundance returns."
Kahui-McConnell said ahu moana and rāhui were just some of the "keys" to turning around the state of the Gulf, though.
"They, alongside marine reserves and other ways of reducing extractive processes, will have an impact, but they need to be done in conjunction with reducing inputs like sediment, heavy metals, plastic, nutrients."