I'm no Poacher


I got pulled up by MAFF (MInistry of Fishers) the other day, honestly when the oversized goons in uniform walked onto the beach looking like riot police i instantly knew what a black man in America must feel everyday. All they needed were guns and i would've been face down in the sand waiting to meet my maker. As I stood there feeling a mixture of shame and fear, I knew there was something not quite right with this picture. But there was little time to dwell considering  the four paua stilling on the hot plate were all undersized. 

I grew up in a place called Hongoeka Bay, a west coast seaside marae surrounded by whanau houses. When we were kids we didn't have to look for paua, kina or other kai, it was just there. We lived on it. Us kids would camp out for days on the rugged coastline with a pan, butter, water and a couple of bread loaves, maybe a can or two of baked beans if we could get them. Sometimes my uncles would bring car cases and set up camp for a month with a few families,  a copper and a few crates of beer.  Mostly we just got what we could eat for the day, unless we were taking it back for kaumatua, thats all, just enough to eat, there was never any waste.  In my grandfathers time they sent kai to other whanaunga who lived in other places like Nelson, Waikanae or Taranaki. And in return, eels, mussels or wild pig would suddenly arrive unannounced on their door steps.  That was the thing, you showed your aroha by sending kai. Kai and stories that connected whakapapa and made it strong. That was normal.

So sitting on that same  beach as we do each xmas with siblings,  kids, moko and their boxing day specials was somehow the new norm. The new tradition. Although we no longer turned up with a couple of loaves of bread, in fact it was the total opposite, the kids seemed to have more stuff than sense. I think it's something to do with 'so called' progress. But anyway, it just felt right to be there and after a while, the sun bleached driftwood, the layers of sea worn rocks, the salt and laughter settled in and with it that same sense of place and belonging. That was until the officers arrived.

My first reaction was shock,  firstly i didn't know MAFF looked like riot police, I also didn't expect to be treated with blatant disregard on my own whēnua. My first instinct was a mixture of anger and defiance, which was very quickly replaced by a muddle of apology and justification.

'Four undersized paua is a $250 fine', the officer said repeating the $250 incase somehow i'd missed it. I looked at the hotplate dumfounded, retreating into my own little paua shell. '$250 divided by four was how much per paua?' was all I could think of. My brother butted in and said the kids got them, which was a hell of a relief for me. I repeated his words but knew my face was giving me away. My bro told me later that they couldn't charge kids that were under 16 and he didn't want to pay the bloody fine. Better plan than my no plan I thought.

 Anyway because it was a new year and because the officer was feeling 'generous' we got let off with a warning. The kids they said, would learn a good lesson and we the adults will know better next time. I even heard myself mumbling my agreeance, which I later regretted. It wasn't until later that the whole experience sort of sunk in, when the memories of what we had and what we'd lost and been reduced to, kinda hit. I questioned myself as to why I'd knowingly get undersized paua in the first place.  

We, as in, my aunties, uncles, kaumatua and cousins have been the ahi kaa for our marae since ever since. And that handing down of responsibility has been happening for centuries. We've built our whare, buried our dead, looked after the land and sea and watched as the city has surrounded us, on whēnua that was once ours. It wasn't a choice. We've been the ones who've fought councils, developers, poachers and so called do gooders to keep our whēnua the way it is. When we were kids, we were the ones to let down tyres and stand up to poachers and gangs who have raped our coast line time and time again. All because paua suddenly became black gold for Japanese markets and local fish and chip shops. And now years later when the horse has bolted, the calvary turn up all smug and righteous in their big bad uniforms and point the finger at us, at my kids and then 'lucky for us' let us off with a warning. 

So from the comfort of my couch I say fuck their rules. I'm still going to get my paua once, maybe twice a year with my whānau. Ill try and get the bigger ones, but there's bugger all of those around now, but i'll try. Failing that ill get undersized ones again, just enough for a taste. Enough to share the stories of who we are, of when I was a kid, of my mothers time, to feel like the world disappears as it does for me on that beach. I'm no poacher and i'm not going to let anyone poach what's rightfully mine.