Sam Judd's opinion piece Cost of the Catch

paints a bleak picture of New Zealand's fisheries, pressing hard on the public's guilt button about eating and buying a great feed of fresh, healthy kaimoana.

But a closer look at the article reveals a serious case of misinformation.

First, despite Judd leaving the impression that all of New Zealand's fishing fleet is now foreign-owned, the facts clearly show 99 per cent of our fishing fleet is New Zealand-owned and operated, ranging from small family owned vessels to the large corporate-owned vessels. And, by the way, all of the deep sea vessels are electronically tracked and monitored, with the 15 foreign-owned vessels also carrying additional New Zealand government observers on board. These same vessels already have to comply with New Zealand labour laws.


Second, the assertion that 80 per cent of New Zealand's original fish stock has gone due to commercial fishing needs to be challenged. Ministry for Primary Industries' research shows our biggest fishery, hoki, is at 60 per cent of the unfished level; the biggest hake stocks are at 50-60 per cent, and ling stocks are in the 55-70 per cent range. This compares favourably with the common international standard for fisheries management targets of 40 per cent.

Sure some stocks, most notably snapper in the SNA 1 area (north-east coast North Island), are currently only at 20 per cent of the unfished level, but that's a minority, not the majority. And let's not forget the success of the Quota Management System (QMS) which uses science to limit catches in stocks with low numbers, to allow them to recover, which they do.

There's no denying the environmental cost of any food production, land or water-based. But it's been scientifically demonstrated that the environmental impacts of harvesting wild fisheries are a lot less than producing animal protein on land.

Mr Judd concludes his only option is to stop buying commercially produced fish and catch his own. But if you have to buy it at all, he recommends using Forest and Bird's best fish guide to select fish. First, this is the guide that puts New Zealand hoki on the red list (don't eat) despite this fish being internationally certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) which is recognised around the world as the 'gold standard' for sustainable fishing. The majority (75 per cent) of New Zealand's key deep water fisheries are either MSC certified or undergoing formal MSC assessments.

This is also the guide that has everyday day species like tarakihi and gurnard more red than green. Yet these are some of our more popular recreational fish and have good stock status. These fish are also generally readily available and reasonably priced in supermarkets and fish shops.

The point is not all New Zealanders are able to go out and catch their own seafood, an important source of healthy protein, and so it is disappointing that Mr Judd feels the need to make those Kiwis buying fish to feed their families feel unnecessarily guilty.

Whether New Zealanders catch or gather their own seafood, or buy at their local supermarket and fish shops, they can have confidence that our fisheries are well managed within the QMS and sustainable for future generations to enjoy.

- Tim Pankhurst is chief executive of Seafood New Zealand