Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons: Hobby fishers must pay for snapper

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Recreational group need to purchase quota from fishing industry.

Photo / Brett Phibbs
Photo / Brett Phibbs

As predicted, the Government has kicked for touch on the controversial issue of snapper in the Hauraki Gulf. After sending the Ministry of Primary Industries out as cannon fodder with an extreme proposal to cut daily bag limits to 3, the Government was able to look like the good guy with a "balanced and fair" plan. Sadly, their limp-wristed approach won't solve any of the problems facing the fishery in the long term.

In short, the daily bag limit has been cut from 9 to 7, and the minimum size of fish increased from 27cm to 30cm. A bunch of other management measures were introduced which are all pretty good, such as increased monitoring of commercial vessels. The real issue is who gets the fish, and how many they can have. That is where the proposals fall short for a bunch of reasons.

First, the proposal fails in the primary objective to rebuild the snapper stock. The current stock is already below target levels for sustainability and in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty things appear to be going downhill.

More fish in the water makes sense for both fishers (there would be more fish to catch and they would be easier to catch) and the health of the environment. In order for the stock to rebuild, less fishing is needed. That is indisputable. All the Government's decision has done is postpone the necessary cuts to the take.

Rebuilding the stock will become even more difficult as the number of recreational fishers keeps growing and fishing technology improves. This is simple mathematics. There are no more fish to go around, and more people chasing them, armed with better gear. Commercial operators have fulfilled their part of the bargain by sticking to their quota since 1986. If the number of fish taken by recreational fishers keeps rising, the stock will just fall.

The pressure group LegaSea have run a smokescreen campaign that diverts the attention of the slightly informed. They've blamed commercial waste for the snapper problem. No one really knows whether it is an issue, but the Government's decision includes some changes to take care of it. Next time this issue comes up, there will be no fig leaf to hide the fact that falling stocks are due to a growing population of recreational fishers with better gear. Where will the rednecks pin the blame then?

LegaSea's answer is a Mugabe-like confiscation from commercial fishers. Charming - this would make a joke of the property rights established under the Quota Management System, and ultimately land the Government in court. The quota system gives commercial fishers a property right for harvesting fish, which incentivises them to invest in the industry and look after the fish stocks. In areas with few recreational fishers, this has worked. However, with fisheries like snapper in the Hauraki Gulf, it has failed. Why should commercial fishers bother to look after the fish stocks if any increase will be snapped up by recreational fishers? They don't.

The only logical answer here, which we outlined in our 2011 book Hook, Line and Blinkers, is for recreational fishers as a group to hold quota, and that group to purchase more off the commercial sector as the recreational fishing population increases. LegaSea dogmatically oppose recreational fishers putting their hands in their pockets, but paradoxically their website goes cap in hand for contributions to help them run. We would rather see our hard-earned cash funding a professional recreational fishing organisation that is democratically accountable to its members, and can buy fishing quota on our behalf. If quota is bought we would all know for sure the right to fish is being protected for our grandchildren.

Here is our six-point plan for snapper, in fact for all of New Zealand's recreational fisheries:

Establish an independent, democratic recreational fishing trust.

Use a government set-up loan to buy back commercial quota and create recreational-only fishing areas. Ask the Government to confirm existing recreational fishing allowances as quota, to be held in trust.

Establish easy ways for recreational fishers to log their catches, so we know how much is being caught (online or with apps).

Establish a low, annual fishing membership fee to pay back the loan and buy more quota in the future. Charter fishers would have to pay a share that reflected the real damage they cause.

Undertake research about ways to improve recreational fishing, including things like maximum size limits to protect the breeding stock.

Work with commercial fishers to get more fish in the water, which is in everybody's interest.

- NZ Herald

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