Mandy Kupenga: Weekend fishers buying quota won't raise snapper stocks

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Those so-called property rights are a construct of a deeply flawed system. Photo / Ron Burgin
Those so-called property rights are a construct of a deeply flawed system. Photo / Ron Burgin

Kiwis love to fish. We do it for recreation, to put some sanity back into our busy lives and to take home a modest, healthy feed for our family. Recently 47,000 people staked their claim to a reasonable slice of snapper between Northland and the Bay of Plenty.

Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons accuse these "rednecks" of wanting to confiscate property rights under the quota management system. They propose mums and dads purchase quota from the fishing industry so we can legally fish to feed our children. But why would we?

Our fisheries already belong to us and we are protecting them for our kids.

Those so-called property rights are a construct of a deeply flawed system. Before we can find enduring solutions we need to admit that far from being "world-leading" the quota management system (QMS) is a 27-year economic experiment requiring an overhaul.

Poor implementation and the aggregation of quota into a few, corporate hands now means most commercial fishermen do not own the rights to any part of their catch; those rights are held by another party ashore.

Vessels are sent to sea with "shopping lists", essentially instructions on what species to unload. Between high government fines for landing catch in excess of quota, the lack of available quota and the unpredictable nature of fishing, selecting what part of the catch to keep or waste is damning evidence of ineffectual systems.

Morgan and Simmons dismiss the outcry against the recent snapper proposals as being "slightly informed". Be assured, the public are informed enough to know that buying quota to go fishing when we are not part of the commercial quota system is madness.

The QMS has failed to deliver the husbandry and abundance promised pre-1986, when it was introduced to reel in the excessive industrial fishing of past decades. It has also failed to reduce high bycatch levels and juvenile mortality by trawl and Danish seine vessels.

The snapper debate was never a sustainability issue. Ministry of Fisheries research demonstrates the fishery has been rebuilding since the 1980s, and under current catch conditions the overall stock level will increase.

Minister Guy Nathan's recent decision means individual daily recreational catch limits will be reduced by 22 per cent. The ministry predicts this will improve stock levels by less than 1 per cent, within the margin of error. Clearly recreational catch is not the problem.

In reality, the growth of the fishery and future catches by all sectors are most dependent on recruitment, the number of small fish making it through to adult stock.

However, stock recovery is being thwarted by poor industrial practices that kill excessive numbers of juvenile fish without cost, and a perverted system that causes most commercial fishermen to illegally dump fish to remain profitable.

So any talk of quota system incentives fostering husbandry are nonsense.

Recently LegaSea supporters contributed generously to a campaign to defend recreational catch, and most people offered to reduce their entitlements to snapper if commercial quota and wastage were also reduced.

This is a fairly simple proposition compared to Morgan's six-point plan. That scheme would require people to become a minor shareholder in a commercially dominated QMS, effectively waiving our future access rights to the fishery.

Public fishing interests remain free of a statutory authority, licences or obligation to buy back what we already own. More importantly, the Fisheries Minister is legally obliged to provide for reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations. Contrary to Morgan's accusations of rednecks and confiscation, LegaSea is helping us collectively stand up for ourselves and stake a claim in our fisheries.

Mandy Kupenga is the national programme leader for LegaSea, an arm of the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council.

- NZ Herald

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