There could and should be millions more snapper in the Hauraki Gulf.

When all the furore was going on about the reduction in the daily bag from nine to seven snapper in Snapper 1, the area from East Cape to North Cape which covers the gulf, the official version of the waste from commercial trawling activities was put at 500 tonnes. That is, snapper which are too small to take, and the industry can keep fish as small as 25cm.

Certain people in the industry scoffed at this figure, suggesting it was more like 1500 tonnes of snapper.

If the average size of baby snapper killed in trawl nets and thrown away was half a kilo, which is probably being generous, it makes the maths easy. The 500-tonne figure equates to a million snapper. Three times that is three million. And if the fish were smaller on average, the number is even greater.


Those are mind-numbing figures. If all those snapper had lived and reproduced, the discussion we'd be having today would be: What are we going to do with all the snapper?

Instead, the recreational sector has seen limits slashed since the much-lauded Quota Management System was introduced in 1986. The daily bag in Snapper 1 went from no limit (definitely unsustainable) to 50 fish (unsustainable), to 30 (generous), to 20 (still pretty generous), to 15 (getting better), to nine (where it should be) then to seven.

In 1997, the commercial quota for the same area was 4500 tonnes. Today, it is 4500 tonnes.

Why are the public constantly penalised? Shouldn't the pain be shared? Limits will never go up again. Once down, they stay down.

Those who love catching a fish to feed the family want their children and grandchildren to be able to catch fish. The legacy we are facing is not pretty. And confidence in the political management system is thin.

The latest move to slow the decline in the snapper fishery will, in the opinion of many in the charter and recreational business, be counter-productive. By increasing the minimum legal size from 27cm to 30cm the officials have penalised those who fish from the shore, as larger fish are far more difficult to find; and condemned many more undersized fish to death as each angler now has to catch more fish to find the ones that can be dispatched for dinner.

Research is a cliched reference, but a survey about 10 years ago looked at the size of fish caught recreationally, the size of those released and their chances of survival.

That research found that 58 per cent of recreationally caught snapper were released, largely due to being under the then legal size of 27cm.

Of these, 95 per cent swam away, three per cent floated and two per cent were judged to be dead. Some of those that swam away had signs of trauma as a result of pressure change after being brought from the deep, or signs of bleeding which would obviously lessen their chances of survival. Now more fish will have to be caught and released, with more mortality.

Another survey which threw up a worrying statistic was one conducted at launching ramps which concluded that 70 per cent of people returned home with no fish.

Now we have a proposal for a recreational fishing park in part of the gulf, and any reduction in commercial pressure must be welcomed as a step in the right direction. But it still leaves half of the (outer) gulf open to indiscriminate trawling which will continue to damage the sea bed and kill unwanted and small fish, as snapper move throughout the gulf.

Whatever the daily limit, it should reflect a fair share of the overall fishery. Some people go fishing all the time, and may only take home a few fish for dinner or to give to their elderly neighbour who cannot afford them. But when somebody who goes fishing only once or twice a year hits the jackpot and experiences one of those memorable days, they should be able to take a good bag of fish.

And if somebody is driving along the southern motorway towing a boat, with the catch in the fish bin in the boat, where have they been fishing? If it was the Manukau Harbour they could have 10 snapper for each angler, down to 27cm long. For that is still the way it is on the west coast.


Brown trout are starting to show up at stream mouths on Lake Taupo, and in the Tongariro River. These fish usually run up spawning streams earlier than their cousins, the rainbows, and as they are generally bigger, they are welcomed by fly fishermen. Night fishing at stream mouths should improve, particularly as the moon wanes to a new moon next week and yesterday's rainfall boosts flows in river mouths.