Fishing changes raise fear of major consequences

By Mike Rose

Marine industry and exporters worry about flow-on effect to economy and Kiwi way of life.

Most boats, GRP and aluminium, are used for fishing. A drastic reduction in snapper bag limits would almost certainly adversely affect the local marine industry, the country's export earnings and many provincial towns and cities.
Most boats, GRP and aluminium, are used for fishing. A drastic reduction in snapper bag limits would almost certainly adversely affect the local marine industry, the country's export earnings and many provincial towns and cities.

Proposed cuts to snapper limits could have widespread adverse effects - to the New Zealand marine industry and its exports, to provincial towns and some of our poorest communities.

While recreational fishers in the top half of the North Island wait to find out how many snapper they can catch, many apparently unrelated groups and communities are deeply concerned, too.

With the ministry's consultation period having closed yesterday, the focus now shifts to Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, who must announce his decision before October 1.

He and his ministry will, from all reports, have received more than 30,000 submissions, most opposing the proposed cut in the daily bag limit from nine to as low as three. It appears many submissions will have focused on issues of fairness and the apparent widespread dumping of snapper said to be rife in the commercial fishing industry.

Others, however, will be asking the Minister to consider the effects such a drastic cut will have on the marine industry, provincial New Zealand and some of our least advantaged citizens.

The marine industry in this country employs more than 10,000 people and contributes $1.7 billion to the national economy, $650 million in exports. It is also the country's largest manufacturing sector outside of the primary sector.

Like any export industry, it relies heavily on a strong domestic base, for a significant percentage of its sales and for vital feedback.

NZ Marine (the marine industry association) and its executive director, Peter Busfield, are clearly concerned about the effect the proposed cut in snapper bag limits would have on their 490 member companies.

Busfield points out that recreational fishing is the "singularly most compelling reason" why people buy and use boats in New Zealand. He believes any new restrictions on New Zealanders' ability to catch a fair quantity of snapper will have a direct and negative effect on the industry's ability to build and service boats.

"This would then reduce the economies of scale of many of our member companies, making their exports less competitive internationally," he says. "The flow-on effects would include the loss of jobs and a reduction in the number of boat-building apprenticeships ."

It is a view shared by Dave Larsen, CEO of Rayglass Boats, one of the country's largest boat manufacturers, a major exporter and an employer of more than 60 staff.

"Most of the boats we sell in New Zealand are used for fishing, either as private pleasure boats or as charter boats to take other people fishing. We use the feedback from those owners to continually improve our boats and this gives us a definite advantage in our international markets.

"I think a lot of Kiwis would find it hard to justify the expense of buying a boat, fuelling it, buying the bait, if they are only allowed to catch three fish. A significant cut to the daily bag limit would adversely affect us and many of the marine businesses that supply us."

Fellow boatbuilder and marine dealer Lionel Sands, of Seacraft Miller Moyes, agrees.

"There is no doubt that the livelihood of our business depends on the possibility of people being able to go out and catch a fish, even if most of them only do that a few times a year," he says. "If the limit is dropped to three, many will decide it is simply not worth it."

Sands points out that his business, best known for their Haines Hunter trailer powerboats, employs 25 people and, like other marine businesses, pays ACC, GST, PAYE and KiwiSaver levies, all of which would be under threat if the proposed cut adversely affect boat sales.

Nor is it only Auckland-based businesses like Rayglass and Seacraft that are likely to suffer.

"What a lot of people do not realise is that a large percentage of the trailer powerboats in this country are built in provincial centres," says Dave Gibbs, general manager of the country's largest boat show, the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show.

"Many leading brands of aluminium powerboats, which are bought almost exclusively for fishing, are built in places like Kawerau, Whakatane, Milton and Invercargill. In many cases, these boatbuilders are one of, if not the, largest employers in their town."

Gibbs cites Surtees Boats as a good example. Based in Kawerau, a town with one of the country's highest levels of unemployment, Surtees is the Bay of Plenty's 2013 Emerging Exporter of the Year and the town's third largest employer.

"Another hugely successful exporter, Invercargill-based Stabicraft Marine, has been chosen to supply boats by organisations such as the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the University of California Marine Science Institute and the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game.

"The boats that won those contracts, and many others like them, are based on the boats Stabicraft build week in, week out, for Kiwis going fishing."

Charter boat operator Andrew Somers believes people from lower socio-economic groups, including Maori and Pasifika, will be hardest hit by the proposed changes.

"Our company, The Red Boats, is the largest fishing charter operator in the Auckland area and a majority of our clients are from lower socio-economic areas, with about half being Maori and Pasifika ," he says.

"Most cannot afford to buy snapper in fish shops or supermarkets and certainly cannot afford to own or run their own boats. The only way they and their families can enjoy healthy fresh fish is by catching it on boats like ours."

Somers says the majority of his clients save up for a fishing trip and use what they catch to feed their families and close friends, many of whom are either too old or too infirm to fish for themselves.

"Because we charge only $65 a person for a day's fishing, we are one of, if not the, cheapest in Auckland," he says. "With a recreational bag limit of nine, $65 is a worthwhile investment for these people. Depending on the time of year, they have a good chance of catching somewhere between five and nine fish and being able to feed their families.

"However, if, the proposed changes go through and the most they can catch is three, it will not be worth their while; anything they catch will be at least as expensive as if they had bought it in a shop."

The result, he says, will be less healthy food for the people who need it most - and the likely loss of a significant number of jobs.

Somers also questions the research on which the ministry's proposals are based. He says that, over the last two years, MPI required his company (and presumably other operators) to complete trip reports for every fishing charter they did.

Surprisingly, however, the amount of snapper caught, or their size, was not part of the information the ministry wanted recorded.

He questions whether the ministry has any real idea of how many snapper are being caught by recreational fishers. "Instead of relying on hard data, they are using guesswork and completely unsubstantiated estimates to demand recreational fishers accept drastic cuts."

- NZ Herald

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