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A public meeting was held in Bluff on Thursday night for the community to learn about a proposed Otara mataitai reserve.
A mataitai reserve is an area of fisheries waters that is closed to commercial fishing; recreational fishing regulations may be altered through bylaws, which 16 of 45 in the country have. Nine mataitai are in Southland.
The reserves are areas that have been identified as traditional fishing grounds, established for the purpose of customary food gathering, and are typically put in place for sustainability management in a localised area.
About 30 people attended the meeting at Te Rau Aroha Marae.
Te Runanga o Awarua applied for the mataitai in November 2019 and if the reserve is approved, a tangata tiaki would be appointed as guardian of the area.
The proposed Otara mataitai reserve would extend from north of the Tokanui River mouth to east of Waipapa Point and to about 900m off shore.
Awarua runanga chairman Dean Whaanga opened the meeting and said, “It really was a significant food gathering area”, that continued to provide for the community.
"I think we’re here for the same reason, it’s a place that is special to all of us."
Attendees introduced themselves and came from varying backgrounds. Some had commercial interests, some were long-time members of the community and some owned property along the stretch of coastline proposed to be protected under the mataitai.
Some attendees said they did not believe it was needed, while others wanted to protect the area from potential overfishing as faced by other areas in Southland.
Submissions close on March 9 and, after consultation ends, the application would be approved or declined by the Fisheries Minister.