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LegaSea - Nourish Magazine

LegaSea

By David Wrigley

For as long as people have inhabited these islands, we have been a nation of fishers. Ever since Te Ika-a-Māui was pulled from the ocean, we have fished for fun, for sport, for profit, and for kai.

This close relationship with the ocean and all that swims in it hasn’t always been a simple one. We haven’t always been kind to the seas that sustain us. Governments have tended to favour the interests of commercial fisheries, mainly serving international markets, when deciding how best to manage our oceans, often at the expense of the environment, tangata whenua, marine wildlife, and ordinary New Zealanders who want to fish for food and fun.

This is where LegaSea come in. The not-for-profit organisation was set up in 2012 by the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council to raise public awareness about what is happening in the seas around us. Unlike commercial fishing operations, recreational fishers have a vested interest in looking after our oceans: making sure habitats remain intact, that we are harvesting sustainably, and that our oceans remain healthy and diverse.

LegaSea set up the Hauraki Gulf Alliance to convince the government through public pressure to get rid of bottom trawling, scallop dredging, and Danish seining from the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The Hauraki Gulf is hugely popular with recreational fishers but is under serious threat after years of unsustainable harvesting practices by commercial fishers and toxic land run-off.

The Hauraki Gulf Alliance is typical of much of LegaSea’s work: bringing people together to petition the government to prioritise the health of the oceans for the good of the many, and to stop exploitation of the environment for the benefit of the few. LegaSea has also been integral to the Coromandel Scallops restoration programme, the Time out for Tarakihi campaign, Crayfish Crisis, and other efforts to raise public awareness and convince the government to protect our marine environments from excessive exploitation.

LegaSea’s work hasn’t only been in opposition to commercial fishing damage. Their wildly successful Kai Ika programme was originally set up to combat fish waste by recreational fishers. The idea was to take the parts of the fish that the fishers didn’t use – pretty much everything besides for the fillets – and redistribute them to communities who saw these heads, frames and offal for what they are: delicious and nutritious sources of protein.

The project started small with just a few kilos of fish frames being transported from LegaSea’s filleting station in Westhaven to the Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae in South Auckland for redistribution to the community.

Then, in 2020, Covid struck. Recreational boats weren’t going to sea and suddenly the supply of fish completely dried up, just when the community needed it the most. The Kai Ika team got in touch with Moana Seafood, a commercial operation, and asked if they could have any offcuts. Moana immediately agreed and since then the majority of Kai Ika’s fish comes from companies like Moana and Sanford. Kai Ika now distribute over 2.5 tonnes of fish per week to communities throughout the Auckland area and have just begun operating in Wellington.

LegaSea’s willingness to work with commercial partners doesn’t stop at the shoreline. Among the many companies who contribute to LegaSea’s work are Whitehaven Wines in Marlborough. Founders Greg and Sue White had a special connection to the ocean: they spent years sailing around the Pacific and their daughter Samantha enjoyed the first six months of her life at sea. While sheltering from a storm in the Marlborough Sounds, the family fell in love with the region and eventually settled there and began making wine.

Samantha grew up and joined the family business in 2020, along with her husband Josh Barclay. Josh was a marine ecologist and often talked about his passion for conserving the oceans. Josh introduced the family to LegaSea and an enduring partnership was born. Whitehaven developed their entry level Kōparepare range (meaning gift, present, or contribution) with LegaSea in mind, and a part of the proceeds from every bottle goes to help protect our oceans.

LegaSea is an organisation that brings people together for the benefit of the ocean and the creatures that swim in it. From the predominantly middle class, boat-owning sports fishers of Auckland, to the small Coromandel towns of the Hauraki Gulf, to the Māori, Pacifica, and Asian communities of South Auckland and Porirua, to ocean-faring Marlborough wine growers; we all have an interest in protecting our marine environments.

LegaSea is playing a vital role in bringing us together to make it happen.

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