Recreational fishers face significant bag or size limit restrictions under all three options revealed for managing the depleted Snapper 1 fishery from October 1.
Release of a long-delayed Ministry of Primary Industries options paper sets up a six-week arm wrestle between recreational and commercial fishing interests before minister Nathan Guy decides which should bear the brunt of efforts to rebuild the fishery.
Fisheries managers have shied away from drastic changes to the 7550-tonne total allowable catch, waving the olive branch of a long-term strategy to bring stocks closer to the target for long-term productivity. But that strategy is somewhere down the track and recreational lobbyists say in the meantime they are being unfairly singled out.
"This is a big slap in the face for recreational fishers," said Mandy Kupenga, spokeswoman for recreational advocates LegaSea.
The options vary from keeping the total commercial, recreational and customary catch at a combined 7550 tonnes, but with new controls on the recreational catch, to adjusting the total catch plus or minus 500 tonnes.
"Under every proposal the recreational catch decreases from its current level, with the decrease varying from 26 to 36 per cent," Ms Kupenga said.
The recreational fishers' problem is that their current take averages about 3365 tonnes - well above their allowance of 2550 tonnes set in 1997.
Options for keeping the sector, which has grown significantly, to that level range from reducing bag limits from nine to three, to increasing the minimum legal size from 27cm to 35cm, or finding middle ground with a combination of the two.
The paper says that even if the total allowable catch was raised by 500 tonnes and shared proportionally, the recreational take would still need to come down by 635 tonnes, with bag limits cut to four unless the minimum size was raised to 33cm.
Kupenga says the proposals are not equitable.
"Bag limits and catch limits are only one way of managing a fishery. There are credible and affordable options to reduce juvenile mortality and bycatch from trawl and purse seine fishing methods which we don't see in this document.
"This won't have the desired results."
The paper acknowledges that none of the options will have much medium-term effect, but suggests a more active management approach based on an agreed strategy. The minister's final decision can go beyond the recommendations, based on consultation with stakeholders.
Seafood NZ, which represents the commercial fleet, was still analysing the options and declined to comment.
Snapper 1 is New Zealand's most popular recreational fishery, taking in the east coast of Northland, the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty, and is the country's fifth-most-valuable commercial fishery by asset value.