In the final of a three-part inquiry into New Zealand's fishing industry, Andrea Fox looks at the feisty world of recreational fishing.
For a recreation that's meant to be relaxing, fishing for pleasure hooks a lot of angst.
But then, as some who claim to speak for the interests of New Zealand's 600,000-odd recreational fishers would say, there's plenty about our fisheries to be concerned about.
It's an equal opportunity angst zone.
While recreational fishing people can be quick to condemn the behaviour of those who make a profit from the sea, commercial operators have their own thoughts about a lack of accountability in the recreational sector. Some think amateurs and their boats should be regulated, for better assessment of their catch and how much they throw back into the sea.
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All up, there's a fair bit of stress about stressing fish.
A conversation with LegaSea, a vocal advocate for recreational fishing interests, launched by the NZ Sport Fishing Council which claims 55 affiliated fishing clubs with 35,239 members, is plain depressing.
According to its spokespeople, our inshore fisheries are running out, the Bay of Plenty should be called the Bay of Empty thanks to trawlers, New Zealand's trumpeted world-leading fisheries control regime, the quota management system (QMS) is ill-managed and fails everyone, the commercial industry is allowed to run amok, and the Kiwi birthright of throwing a line over the side of a boat in the expectation of catching dinner is in peril. (This despite scientific research from government body Fisheries NZ claiming to show 97 per cent of all fish landed in New Zealand come from stocks that are sustainable and healthy.)
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While the fishing industry says overfishing has been eclipsed by other threats to marine life such as climate change and warming seas, pollution from onshore activities and sedimentation of the sea floor, LegaSea would like commercial operators banished from inshore fisheries to allow fish to grow and breed.
But does it speak for the concerns of all recreational fishers or is it, as the commercial industry suggests, an extremist voice?
A visit to a fishing social media site or the magazine stand of a bookstore implies the situation is not as dire as LegaSea and like-minded fishers would have it. All those photos of beaming fishers and their catch, all those tales of a great day out on the water.
As Volker Kuntzsch, chief executive of big fishing company Sanford says, it's hard to locate the real voice of recreational fishers. He wants to talk to them to try to build a bridge between the sectors but doesn't think LegaSea speaks for the "thousands of mums and dads who go fishing on a Sunday afternoon".
Whatever, by their numbers alone, there's no question saltwater recreational fishers have a right to be heard.
They're an economic force.
They catch an estimated 10,000 tonnes of fish a year. A "very modest" take compared to the fishing industry's 400,000-plus tonnes, says LegaSea spokesman Scott Macindoe.
In the process they spend about $946m annually and generate about $1.7b in total economic activity, according to a 2016 report by the NZ Marine Research Foundation.
A 2017-2018 survey by government fisheries management agency Fisheries NZ recorded the outings of 7000 pleasure fishers. It estimated they caught 7 million individual finfish and nearly 4 million individual shellfish. From the survey it was estimated that 14 per cent of the population over the age of 15 went fishing at least once during the year. An estimated two million fishing trips were made.
Macindoe says the non-commercial catch contributes an estimated $200m in indirect taxation, with $20 per kg paid in taxes by fishers.
He says New Zealanders are not getting a fair return for their fish resource, while being expected to accept lower bag limits, access to fewer fish and "having their marine environment trashed by indiscriminate, bulk harvesting methods".
"The public are paying big time, even for fish they do not catch themselves."
Macindoe's case is that the taxpayer is subsidising commercial "exploitation" of New Zealand fisheries while receiving no benefit in return. "It is costing the taxpayer to have its fish taken for private gain" under the commercial fishing quota management system, he says.
"To be clear there is no such thing as quota dollars. The commercial industry is given over 400,000 tonnes of fish every year free of charge. They have agreed to pay what they call attributable costs. That is a very small administrative charge calculated to cover the costs of administering the commercial catch.
"Quota shareholders only pay a modest administration and research levy compared to the cost of their presence in New Zealand's fisheries. They are charged levies to cover the conservation, research, compliance and management costs generated by their presence in the fisheries. In 2017-18 levies totalled $25m only. This is a fraction of the actual cost of providing the above services by government departments and officials."
If Macindoe's gripes about the fishing industry sound strident - he talks about its "inshore fishing jihad" - at least they are backed by a modicum of research.
The same can't be said about some recreational fishing warriors' emails to the Herald after this fishing series reported on the commercial sector.
One claimed "the commercial sector is guilty of massive legalised waste". Asked for evidence, the writer couldn't produce any, but eventually quoted a QMS critic acquaintance who'd read an article once which said so.
Another said reporting the perspective of commercial fishing leaders in a series about fishing in New Zealand was pedalling "industry propaganda".
These are feisty people. Perhaps they should go fishing more to relax.
LegaSea says most recreational catch is in the North Island - 9000 tonnes of the estimated total 10,000 tonne annual take. Most of that fishing is in what is officially called "area one" - from North Cape to East Cape. The Hauraki Gulf serves as a marine playground for more than two million people each year, says Macindoe.
Fisheries NZ acknowledges that more snapper are caught in the Hauraki Gulf by recreational fishers than by the commercial sector overall. It says another area where recreational fishers are allowed to catch more than the professionals is in a zone called Kingfish Auckland (East) where the recreational allowance makes up 68 per cent of the total allowable catch (TAC).
The agency says recreational catch is proactively managed within the quota management system (QMS). The total amount of fish taken from each stock is controlled within TAC, which is shared between the different fishing sectors.
The setting of the recreational allowance within the TAC is informed by a national survey of fishers every five to six years. To ensure the recreational harvest does not exceed the TAC allowance, fishers are subject to daily bag limits, minimum size limits, method restrictions and closed or restricted fishing areas.
Snapper is by far the most common catch of recreational fishers, says Fisheries NZ.
In 2017-2018, close on 50 per cent of all finfish caught were snapper. Next was kahawai at 14.3 per cent. A previous survey in 2011-2012 showed 52 per cent of fish caught were snapper and 13.4 per cent kahawai. Blue cod is more important in South Island fisheries.
The QMS, introduced in 1986 when fish stocks were on the verge of collapse, may be world-leading in the opinion of commercial sector leaders, but for LegaSea it is "a simple feudal system" of resource allocation and use.
LegaSea's analysis of "why the status quo is untenable" claims the QMS relies on "a monopoly, rent seeking and private control over a public resource".
In a 28-point analysis it also claims "industrial" fishing interests control fisheries policy and a lack of strategic planning in the national interest.
LegaSea's claim that fishing companies sway policy-making is a joke in the commercial sector. Professionals claim exactly the opposite - that politicians are too frightened to tighten regulations on recreational fishers so their catch can be properly measured, because they fear a voting backlash.
Current Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash also laughs - at both claims.
"I make decisions without any fear or favour whatsoever. In fact there are a number of judicial decisions which have said the minister must not favour one sector over another.
"I base all my decisions purely on the evidence and I pride myself on that."
Regarding LegaSea - and some fishing company - claims that the Government needs to improve fish stocks assessment because currently it's guesswork, Nash concedes there isn't the money for a level of research "that would be required to get everything 100 per cent right".
"We do cost-recover between $28m and $35m a year for research and we do look at a number of stocks per year. But you can't look at every stock within the QMS every single year.
"So we do rely a lot on modelling to tell us what is happening, and of course modelling is imprecise."
Recreational fishers already resentful about boat ramp charges may be dismayed to hear there are calls from the commercial sector for pleasure boats, and even fishing trips, to be licensed. The justification is this would provide better information about the true recreational catch and assist fisheries stocks management.
That charter boats aren't considered commercial operators also rankles with the professional industry. There are hundreds of them, they're run as businesses and with multiple customers, they can take a lot of fish on a single outing.
As iwi fishing sector leader Dion Tuuta notes, even customary fishing requires permits.
The chief executive of Te Ohu Kaimoana, which polices and protects legislated Māori fishing rights, says good fisheries management requires good data.
"We need to understand what's coming out of the water. On the customary side of things, permits are issued and data is captured. In the QMS you have an annual catch entitlement and you are legally required to report that. That information is captured and recorded.
"We do not have that at a similar level at recreational fishing level. There are periodic ramp surveys and bag limits but there's nowhere to go with any degree of certainty to get facts. We need to know."
Fisheries Minister Nash isn't going there.
He doesn't believe licensing would be enforceable.
"You could argue it has been a right in this country to go out on an afternoon, throw a line over a boat and feed yourself, your family and your friends.
"The reason I'm not looking to change that regime at all is not the numbers [of fishers], it's not the vote, it's the practicality of it all.
"If you start charging people for the right to do that then we change the fundamental nature of fishing."
Nash says recreational fishers already contribute to the economy - "close to $1 billion a year".
"Their economic value is so significant. And if you look at the overall total of their take, it's a very small percentage."