What is the history of commercial fishing in Te Waihora?

Hapū at Te Waihora were involved in extensive trading of fish before European settlement. This continued after European settlement, with the supply of various fish to the Christchurch market. In 1864, European flounder fishing began and in 1865, Thomas Robelli, an Italian, settled at Te Waihora as a commercial fisherman. As many as 250 men and 20 boats were fishing from Taumutu.

In the late 1880s, the North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society introduced brown trout to the lake. These were commercially harvested from Te Waihora and its tributaries, particularly the Selwyn River/Waikirikiri, for sale at the Christchurch markets.

Commercial flounder and freshwater tuna fisheries later flourished. In 1979, flounder from Te Waihora provided around 5% of the total New Zealand flounder catch. The peak catch, in 1978, was 216 tonnes.

The commercial tuna fishery grew rapidly in the 1970s in response to overseas demand. Te Waihora was then the most important commercial eel fishery in the country. The commercial catch peaked in 1976 at 846 tonnes.

Today there are three main commercial fisheries in Te Waihora – tuna, flounder and yellow-eyed mullet. These are all managed under the Quota Management System (QMS) by the Ministry for Primary Industries to ensure sustainability of fish stocks.

Customary fishing also encompasses a commercial component to participate in these commercial fisheries. These customary rights were recognised in the 1992 Fisheries Settlement and Ngāi Tahu have re-established their position in the Te Waihora commercial fishery. While these activities are considered purely commercial, Ngāi Tahu regard them as part of their customary use.