Recreational fishers are braced for bag limit cuts after a new assessment of the country's most popular fishery found it well short of sustainability.
An assessment of the Snapper 1 fishery covering the Hauraki Gulf, eastern Northland and the Bay of Plenty found stocks are well below the target level and that, in the 2011/12 season, recreational and customary fishers exceeded their combined 2,600-tonne allowance by 40 per cent.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says no decisions have been made yet on any changes to regulations in the Snapper 1 area, but formal consultation will begin next month.
"The new plenary science report shows the stock is rebuilding well, and anecdotal evidence suggests it is in good health.
"However challenges still remain. Overall snapper numbers are up 70% over the last 15 to 25 years, but are still only about half the level of the current management target."
There will be a full consultation process beginning in July, covering a wide range of options. Options open to Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy include increasing the legal minimum size of fish taken, now 27cm, increases or decreases to both commercial and recreational limits as well as keeping the status quo.
The Ministry of Primary Industries is preparing draft regulations for managing the fishery from October 1 and scientists say moves to rebuild the fishery are justified.
Suggestions of a 10 per cent cut in commercial fishers' allowances have been withdrawn, but they may have to accept increased monitoring and reporting requirements as scientists seek better understanding of what's happening to the fishery.
The snapper bag limit is nine and recreational group LegaSea, an offshoot of the Sport Fishing Council, is predicting cuts of up to 40 per cent.
Recreational lobbyists have pledged to oppose cuts in their allocation unless equivalent restraints are placed on the commercial sector.
"I encourage everyone to have their say when consultation begins in July, and caution people against jumping to conclusions. Any decisions will be based on the best available science, and be widely consulted on. We need to ensure this valuable fishery is sustainable for future generations," says Mr Guy.