This paper explores the influence of institutions on indigenous entrepreneurship within the muttonbird economy of Ngāi Tahu (a New Zealand Māori tribe). It determines that colonisation removed the traditional Ngāi Tahu institution of executive authority which once regulated muttonbird exchange. Without this regulatory function whānau (family) birders compete against each other at their own expense and to the benefit of traders. As a consequence the birders are constrained in applying their birding knowledge and abilities to realise market opportunity. Furthermore, declining returns and harvesting pressure is in some cases reducing the financial and natural capital of whānau, whilst threats to continuing birding culture potentially undermines the socio-human capital contained within inherited traditions and the maintaining of kinship connections. It is argued that the development of a contemporary executive authority to regulate exchange and market product may reinvigorate entrepreneurial birding activities.