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Friday, March 6, 2009

A Lake Current Affair

This morning on Stuff.co.nz there is an article about Eel fisherman complaining about a proposed tax by Ngai Tahu on their quota of catch from Lake Ellesmere in Canterbury.

The short history is that Lake Ellesmere was ceded to Ngai Tahu as part of their 1998 Treaty of Waitangi settlement and now the iwi proposes to levy an annual 8% levy against the quota of eel taken from the lake (Te Waihora) chiefly for the environmental protection of the lake.

I can see the ire of many being raised by this story. After all, isn't this an example of the exactly the fears that have previously been raised by many as to what could happen had not the Foreshore and Seabed legislation not been enacted by the previous government? Might this not set a precedent for other iwi around the country so that your average New Zealander may be denied the freedoms of the past whether financially or via access - especially access? After all, 8% of $360k or $28,800, is a fairly sizeable chunk of cash. This could seriously impact the livelihood of the eel fishermen? Is it fair?

Yes, it is.

Consider it this way.

If you or I owned the lake and someone else was using it for commercial gain, wouldn't you feel justified in taking a small cut? I would. Likewise, any self respecting corporation or business entity would probably insist on more and call it a Joint Venture. After all, its the same as using someone else's land to grow a crop for sale. One would generally sign a lease in such a situation and look on it as a "cost of goods sold" scenario.

Granted, these fisherman may have been doing this previous to the ownership change. Granted, the iwi also receives revenue from the leasing of the quota. However, once again if you applied the same reasoning as the analogy of a block of farm land - and a quota and lease agreement are two separate and distinct agreements - then sure, any reasonable, business orientated body would levy such a tax. You can't use the "because it's always been that way argument" because as everybody knows, thats not really an argument at all.

And the iwi are quite right about cleaning up the lake. Locals have known for years that there are a multitude of environmental issues around the lake - not the least of which is that it is bloody filthy. It definitely does need to be cleaned up. Just the amount of dairy run-off that leaches into it makes me shudder to throw a stick in it for the dog to chase (if I had a dog anyway). And the money for this needs to come from somewhere. Any where else, we would expect the owner of the property to clean it up - especially when the owner remains committed to free public (not commercial) access.

And the plain fact is that Ngai Tahu do own it.

It will be interesting to see where this story leads.

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