New economic policies in the 1980s had a big impact on the Chathams. The New Zealand government became more sceptical about subsidising economic activity. It also engaged in dialogue with the indigenous population – Māori and Moriori – about grievances dating from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840).
Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust
The Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust was established in December 1991. The New Zealand government contributed $8 million, together with public assets: wharf facilities, an airfield, the defunct freezing-works buildings and the electricity generating plant. The trust took responsibility for electricity generation, ports and airfield.
The leasing of the annual fishing catch entitlement and investment in forestry became two additional areas of activity for the trust. The value of the trust’s assets exceeded $46 million in 2014, but it faced challenges in earning enough income to maintain them, particularly the wharf and the airport.
A quota system for fisheries was introduced in 1986. Chatham Islanders were unprepared and much of the quota that related to Chatham Island waters was bought up by others. A settlement of fishing quota was made to the Enterprise Trust by the government in the 1990s after an investigation by the ombudsman. This was worth some $12 million annually in 2012.
Live crayfish air freight exports, mostly to Asian markets, thrived in the 2000s. Changes in regulations with a view to achieving a sustainable crayfish yield continued to be made.
After 2000 returns from sheep farming fell and remained vulnerable to fluctuations in wool prices, and to high farming and transport costs. An attempt to beat high transport costs by establishing a meatworks failed.
In the early 2000s the shipping of young cattle to New Zealand shifted many farmers away from a reliance on sheep. Many farmers gained extra income from fishing or other activities. Farm and animal management lagged behind standard practices on the mainland.
People and government
The Waitangi Tribunal investigated Moriori and Māori grievances in respect to the Chathams and released its report – WAI 264 – in 2004. The Crown recognised Moriori as well as Māori and stated that it would not settle any claims until both could be settled. In 2020 the Moriori claim was settled.
A Moriori marae complex, Kōpinga, was opened in 2005 at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Helen Clark, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu (the Māori queen) and other dignitaries.
The Chatham Island Council is the local authority for the Chatham Islands. The islands were formerly part of the Lyttelton general electorate, but in the 1980s they became part of Wellington’s Rongotai electorate. The islands are also part of Te Tai Tonga Māori electorate.
The Chatham Islands health centre at Waitangi, managed until 2022 by the Hawke’s Bay district health board, provides medical services.
There are primary schools at Te One, Kāingaroa and Pitt Island. The latter two had fewer than 10 pupils in 2015, while Te One was much bigger.
Up to 44 passengers can be carried in the Convair 580, but usually there is a major cargo component of live crayfish and processed fish that reduces available seating.
Transport and communication
In the 2010s shipping services operated between the islands and the ports of Napier and Timaru. Air Chathams, established in 1984, used Convair 580s on scheduled flights between the islands and Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. There were also special charters and additional unscheduled flights.
Tourism and conservation
In the early 2000s Waitangi had a hotel and several motels that provided a good base for tourists. To gain the most from a visit, local guides and transport were essential. Eco-tourism, focusing on the island’s unique landscape, birds and plants, was popular.
Past, present, future
Long-lived local Alfred ‘Bunty’ Preece said of living on Chatham Island: ‘For the past 200 years …, the story has been one of plunder. First there was wholesale exploitation of whales and seals ... the landscape of our islands is beautiful but now barren. More recently we have had the plunder of crayfish and blue cod, pāua and other shellfish ... [W]e took fish, we never planted trees. Now we are anxious about what we will leave our grandchildren.1
The New Zealand Department of Conservation maintained a well-resourced office at Te One.
In 1996, 440 hectares of private land was protected by conservation covenants; by 2008 that had grown to more than 3,000 hectares.
The black robin and the tāiko (magenta petrel) were both brought back from the brink of extinction through major efforts by volunteers and public servants. The sole tāiko breeding site is behind a predator-free fence on a ‘land-island’ known as the Sweetwater reserve.
Other critically endangered species, including the black robin, survive in tightly managed reserves on South East Island (Rangatira) and Māngere Island. Albatrosses that breed on other off-shore islands are also accorded special protected status.