Comment: New Zealand's fishing industry punches well above its weight internationally - but we can do better, writes National's spokesman for Fisheries Ian McKelvie.

Fishing is part of our New Zealand heritage and has historically been a very important food source for many New Zealanders, including being the main food source for Māori and our early settlers.

We have the fourth largest area of ocean and seabed in the world and while our management systems may leave a little to be desired at times, we punch well above our weight internationally from a sustainability and environmental perspective.

However this does not mean we cannot do much better.


There is no question this area needs more focus on research and development and compliance and that will be a challenge for us leading up to the next election.

I believe this matter needs co-operation between Central Government and the fishing sector.

The commercial arm of the fishing sector puts more than $16 million into the Ministry for Primary industries (MPI) or Fishing New Zealand's coffers annually to undertake research and fish surveys and is taking an active role in improving its sustainability.

It's vitally important we utilise good science as we consider the sustainability of our fishery.

It can be easy to get caught up in personal catches and how many fish we caught over the weekend, but some people will always catch more fish than others, and the judgement as to how many fish are actually out there can change depending on who you listen to.

Currently our fishing industry is under pressure as their fishing methods, environmental record and the sustainability of their catch are coming under criticism from a sector of our community, and factions within Government who don't always use fact-based material to back up their criticism.

The Hector's and Māui Dolphins Threat Management Review is a major concern for the industry at the moment.

This policy will impose a huge amount of restrictions on fishing operations that would severely hamper the industry's ability to operate.


While we can all agree that looking after our wildlife is important and should not be ignored, I believe there are better alternative measures than simply stopping fishers from trawling and setting nets.

The fishing industry, much like their agricultural counterparts, has made large investments in sustainability and future proofing.

National's spokesman for Fisheries Ian McKelvie. Photo / Bevan Conley
National's spokesman for Fisheries Ian McKelvie. Photo / Bevan Conley

The Moana project has been utilising vessels to collect data as well as conducting their usual fishing operations.

With the increasing challenge of climate change they have been working with MetOcean to facilitate the deployment of sensors that can give scientists the information needed to understand climate change impacts on our oceans and their impact on species distribution and abundance.

Initiatives such as underwater bait setters and hookpods are also having a positive impact by protecting our seabirds from accidentally being caught up.

They should be commended for these efforts and encouraged to continue on this path.

Despite these improvements, confidence for the future remains low and this is leading to a lack of investment and uptake of better equipment and methods.

The industry is awaiting direction from the Government, but the Government doesn't appear to know what they want or expect.

Of course there will always be a degree of conflict and competition between the commercial and recreational sectors of this vibrant and important resource, a resource that provides jobs for some 14,000 New Zealanders and recreation for more than 700,000 kiwis.

But it is important for both commercial and recreational fishing to exist together in harmony, and I think it is possible for them to do so. The ability to go down to the river or beach and catch a fish is vitally important to so many New Zealanders, and this right should be maintained

The commercial industry is making efforts to improve this by voluntarily closing fishing areas at particular times to address concerns from recreational fishers.

This means commercial vessels are staying away from areas that are frequented by recreational fishers over the summer period.

The seafood sector delivers approximately $2 million in export revenue and export prices are expected to rise as a result of a growing global demand for our seafood.

Rather than hamstringing the sector with numerous restrictions we should look for science-based solutions to continue making our operations more sustainable, and continue producing the seafood people love.