Elderly Kaipara men’s fight to help conserve prized toheroa shellfish

Yvonne Tahana
Source: 1News

There’s one way Jim Te Tuhi reckons he and his good mate Barry Searle would like to be reincarnated.

Both Kaipara men are in their 80s. They’ve been staunch toheroa conservationists, kaitiaki at Ripiro Beach for 40 years.

Today, Mr Te Tuhi is waxing lyrical about the male sex of the species.

“When Barry and I die we’re gonna come back as toheroa because there’s one of those to 80 females. Our odds are cut and dried," he joked to 1 NEWS.

But both are unhappy about a summer they say has been bad for poaching. Diggers are often leaving behind broken-shelled shellfish – unlikely to rebury themselves and survive the oyster catchers or flies.

In Northland, the taking of the prized delicacy is prohibited with the exception of customary permits. Penalties range from $250 to $20,000.

Mr Searle used to be a tuatua commercial fisherman at Ripiro, he now uses a walking stick to get up and down the West Coast beach. He’s sadden by the waste.

“They're not only taking this year’s crop but next years’ as well by letting the birds eat them. And that's heart-breaking.”

Honorary fisheries officers for MPI intercepted five people with 80 toheroa this week. Team manager Stephen Rudsdale says decisions are yet to be made about the case.

While he hasn’t detected a higher than usual rate of illegal activity, he says there has been increasing number of people calling in tips to 0800 4 POACHER.

“I think it’s just an awakened awareness," he told 1 NEWS.

"They’re taking more notice of what’s happening on the beach. I think it’s a great thing.”

As for Mr Te Tuhi and Mr Searle, they say they won’t be giving up regular unofficial patrols.

“It’s not for us, we won’t benefit from them, but our kids and our grandchildren should,” Mr Searle said.