Whai Rawa, Whai Mana, Whai Oranga: Creating a world-leading indigenous blue economy

Whalewatch Kaikōura. © Sarah Orme, New Zealand Story

Creating a foundation for a world-leading indigenous blue economy in Aotearoa New Zealand.                                              

Project Leader: Dr Jason Mika, Massey University and Dr John Reid, University of Canterbury 

Duration: February 2018 – June 2019 
Budget: $500,000 
Status: Completed

Māori businesses are on track to be the largest commercial interest in Aotearoa New Zealand fisheries. Māori also have growing customary property rights and governing authority in the management of marine areas. We explored regulatory and policy tools to embed mātauranga Māori in sustainable commercial and customary fishing activities. 

In this project, we examined existing models and frameworks of mātauranga Māori used in the management of the marine ecosystem and economy. We analysed hapū and iwi approaches to integrated management and identified the structures and operating principles of Māori marine organisations.  

Our research aims were to:  

  • Identify policy and regulatory tools that foster marine ecosystem and economic management, and reflect Māori knowledge systems, values frameworks and operating principles 

  • Develop kaitiaki business models that embed Māori commercial activity within sustainable ecosystem processes 

  • Integrate kaitiaki business models with frameworks for the development of sustainability tracing and authentication systems that will capture premium for Māori marine products 

  • Support the commercialisation, extension or adoption of Māori marine management ideas, processes, and products that support economic and ecological development for marine resources and communities.


Literature review

The research team examined more than 150 articles and reports to distil 5 key factors that will drive growth of the Māori marine economy:

  • The continued development of Māori customary rights
  • Integration of hapū and whanau into iwi and pan iwi economic activity
  • An integrated value chain where as many elements as possible are owned by Māori
  • Branding and marketing that is inspired by hapū and iwi stories, symbols and designs which communicate their whakapapa and connection to tipuna and whenua
  • That provenance and authentication and traceability are communicated to the consumer in a way that is grounded in tikanga Māori

Case studies

The report describes 5 case studies representing different business models (ACE trading company, joint venture or iwi fishing company), examining aspects of their operations that have a resonance with kaitiaki-centred business models. The case studies are: Ngāi Tahu Seafoods and Moana New Zealand (large Māori fishing companies); the Iwi Collective Partnership (a Māori collective organisation); Ngāti Kahungunu (a tribe with a range of fisheries assets); and Eastern Sea Farms and Aotearoa Clams (two Māori-owned fishing companies).

Some kaitiaki-centred models or approaches are formalised within Māori fishing businesses while others emerge out of informal governance arrangements that reduce take for long-term sustainability. These case studies suggest that where Māori have more control they manage things better. This in turn suggests that the Māori marine economy would benefit if kaitiaki-centred business models were recognised and formalised to allow fishers to control the quota allocation process and set their own boundaries.

Mapping the Māori marine economy

The Māori marine economy (MME) has emerged out of Māori responses and adaptations to Crown-created institutions and structures that are different from traditional Māori institutions. These institutional structures place limitations on the commercial options available to Māori entities and create tensions between traditional economic forms of organisation and the contemporary corporate-beneficiary approaches.

Despite these constraints, the vast majority of Māori entities are engaging and succeeding in the marine economy. The level of activity exists on a spectrum, from those engaged in Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) trading and the development of joint ventures with third parties to fish quota, through to those actively fishing, processing, exporting, marine farming, and engaged in marine-based tourism.

Regarding the growth and scale of Māori assets in the marine economy, Māori have acquired an additional $321m in quota assets in relation to the $314m in settlement quota. Māori have moved from owning 10% of New Zealand’s fishing quota to 20% of New Zealand’s quota by value. There is a significant cohort of innovative and growing businesses in the MME, who are leading this growth.


Dr Mika is the Director of Te Au Rangahau (the Maori Business and Leadership Centre) at  Massey University.  Dr Mika was recently interviewed on Māori Television -  Maori enterprise – awakening the Taniwha


What is a ‘blue economy’, and how can Aotearoa get one? Jason Mika discusses how can we best develop our marine economy, while protecting the taonga of our marine environment.

Dr Jason Mika’s research into Māori enterprise is helping economic development agencies better cater to the many small and medium-sized businesses that are part of the $42 billion Māori economy. From Massey University.

Project proposal

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Innovation Fund is open for blue economy initiatives

We invite NZ-based researchers, industry, stakeholders and Māori to submit expressions of Interest (EoIs) for research projects that will contribute directly to building a ‘blue economy’ in Aotearoa.

1,800+ schoolchildren (virtually) explored marine science for Seaweek

Last week (3–5 March), schoolchildren from across New Zealand travelled with LEARNZ and the Sustainable Seas Challenge to discover what's threatening mussels/kuku or kūtai, a taonga species, in Ōhiwa Harbour, and how science and mātauranga Māori are being combined by local kaitiaki to understand – and address – the problem.