The Quota Management System that has largely governed commercial fishing in New Zealand since 1986 has enriched a few but has short-changed fish, mana whenua and the public according to LegaSea spokesman Scott Macindoe.
The system, he said, had to go.
It had been established with quota owners having to pay resource rentals, but that only lasted a few years, Mr Macindoe said. For the past 30 years the commercial fishing industry had not paid for the use of publicly-owned resources.
"Incredibly, we gave away most of our fisheries at no charge," he said.
"Perpetual property rights were created out of thin air, fully transferable and tax-free. Those who did the most damage to our fish stocks were the ones who reaped the greatest rewards.
"The public is getting such a raw deal. The promised rebuilds have simply not happened. One species after another is suffering the 'sustainable depletion' that inevitably occurs after decades of chasing the mythical 'maximum sustainable yield' that the QMS is driven by."
The system had failed coastal fish populations and those depending on fisheries for their livelihoods alike, he added.
"To usher in the QMS, thousands of artisanal part-time fishermen lost their permits. This had a devastating effect on small, regional communities. Some coastal towns in the Far North and on the East Coast have never recovered.
"The process to revoke fishing permits had a disproportionate effect on Māori, many of whom fished when the season was right and then worked elsewhere in the off-season. They were the source of good, healthy food for their communities. We sure miss these whānau businesses today."
Māori had challenged the government when it attempted to introduce new species into the QMS in 1987, and eventually settled commercial claims in 1992 with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi Settlement Deed, but Māori non-commercial interests in fishing, both customary and recreational, were still affected today by the lack of fish in the water.
"When Māori are fishing to feed the whānau, this is classified as recreational fishing. Research shows that 52 per cent of Māori who fish in the sea say they rely on fishing to feed their families, compared with 27 per cent of the adult population overall," Mr Macindoe said.
"Having access to abundant fish stocks is fundamental in providing for both Māori and the public's interests in fisheries. However, often as not the pathways to abundance are blocked by quota owners wielding so much influence over fisheries management and marine protection matters."
In his role as LegaSea support and alignment specialist, Mr Macindoe had frequent conversations with people who were frustrated by their inability to have an area set aside for conservation, to remove indiscriminate and destructive bottom trawling and dredging from sensitive and highly productive inshore zones, or to simply have excessive catch allocations reduced.
"Just 10 entities own 78 per cent of all quota shares today," he added.
"New Zealand is being held to ransom by a handful of organisations clinging to the status quo. They are dominating the management processes at great cost to all New Zealanders. If we want a future where fisheries are restored to abundance, the QMS has to go."
According to LegaSea:
● One hundred entities own 90 per cent of all fish quota shares.
● More than 90 per cent of all fish caught in New Zealand waters is harvested by commercial fishers.
● Commercial fishers are permitted to take 400,000 tonnes of fish every year.
● Three per cent of total allowable catch is taken by recreational fishing.
● Thousands of tonnes of fish are exported every year for less than $3 per kilo, with no added value to New Zealand.
● 'Sustainable' catch limits are defined as 20 per cent of original biomass; 40 per cent is the management default.
● As of this year, 56 per cent of targeted fish were not scientifically assessed.