Farmer wants weka on menu

BY HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2009
Roger Beattie, weka
DON SCOTT/ The Press
MENU ADDITION: Roger Beattie, a Banks Peninsula farmer, is keen on weka and would like to farm them commercially.

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Banks Peninsula businessman Roger Beattie has brought buff weka to mainland New Zealand.

Now, he wants to put the birds on the menu.

Beattie has brought back weka from the Chatham Islands since 1994, with Department of Conservation (DOC) consent, and has settled the birds in a predator-proof enclosure.

He now plans to tackle the rules that protect buff weka on the mainland. "It's a process and could take five years, but I am going to enjoy the challenge of speeding that up," he said.

DOC believes Beattie's proposal raises questions, and the department may need legal advice.

Buff weka disappeared from the South Island in the 1930s. However, a population was established on the Chatham Islands.

Beattie, who worked in the Chathams for 15 years, said weka were delicious, and make chicken look bland and greasy by comparison.

Beattie is the country's biggest individual wild paua-quota holder and a paua-pearl industry advocate. He also harvests sea kelp from Akaroa Harbour and wants to commercialise the pest seaweed undaria.

Beattie believes conservation and business go hand-in-hand. He said if there was money to be made from an endangered species, it would never die out.

Beattie said DOC's control of bird species created a protracted permit process that strangled entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

If approved for commercial farming, Beattie planned to sell weka breeding pairs to farmers and lifestyle-land owners. He estimated the birds could return $2000 per hectare.

Beattie, who has about 30-plus birds, said weka bred prolifically in the right conditions, hatching up to three clutches of four or five eggs annually, with birds ready for the table at four months.

"There are a number of natural species we harvest and farm, and birds are no different," he said.

However, DOC Canterbury conservator Mike Cuddihy said the proposal raised questions, and that there were no precedents. Buff weka were protected, yet extinct, in mainland New Zealand, but could be killed and eaten on the Chatham Islands, where populations were at pest levels.

"Buff weka have a curious juxtaposition of status between mainland New Zealand and the Chathams," he said. "Breeding for consumption in mainland New Zealand is something that goes beyond anything we have contemplated, and there are no precedents that I am aware of."

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