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Blue Cod issue needs action

Marlborough Blue Cod Issue Needs Action

Opinion Piece by Lloyd Hanson

22 September 2009

Lloyd Hanson is President of the Marlborough Recreational Fishers' Association.


Top of the South Blue Cod management area. Image courtesy of MFish.

The blue cod ban in the Marlborough Sounds should be lifted as soon as possible and management measures put in place to maintain and enhance the fishery.

The Blue Cod Working Group, which was established by the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) at much the same time as the ban, has recreational fishing representatives and is chaired by MFish.

Its purpose was to come up with a comprehensive plan so the blue cod fishery in the Marlborough Sounds would thrive.

There appears to have been a lot of talk and very little happening.

Implementation measures

Marlborough Recreational Fishers Association has listened to ideas, perused available science, talked to scientists, commercial fishers and experienced anglers, and formed the following for immediate implementation.

In brief, the blue cod ban in the Marlborough Sounds should be lifted as soon as possible and management measures put in place to maintain and enhance the fishery.

Three fundamentals are:

  • Bans are not necessarily good management. They place heavy fishing pressure on areas adjoining the ban, which is already evident. It is a "boom and bust" approach.
  • Education and voluntary measures are preferable to regulations in most cases.
  • Consistency is important in regulations so they are (a) easily understood by public and (b) will make easier the task of policing, e.g. bag limits.

There are a number of adjustments or action fronts to be considered and implemented:

  • Remove the blue cod ban. Minister Phil Heatley has stated he wants the ban lifted (before the four years), and "sooner rather than later."
  • Lowering the 20 cod limit in Cook Strait adjacent to the Sounds to 6 (fish do not recognise lines on a map). Thus immediately introduce a daily bag limit of 6 cod for Challenger West (West Coast) and Area 8 (Kapiti) and Area 2 (Cook Strait)
  • While the ban is in place, no commercial trawling in Pelorus Sound to be allowed inside a line from East Entry to West Entry.

Bag/size limits need revising.

Short-term measures:

  • Lower size limit to 28 cms
  • Raise bag limit to 4.

Longer-term objective of:

  • Raising the Sounds bag limit to 6.
  • Make blue cod limit 6 for all areas.

Other possible measures are:

  • Implement a voluntary diary scheme to record date, approximate location, length of each fish caught, number of undersized fish released, size of any large fish released, time and hours fished etc., Blank days to be recorded. This sort of diary is used in trout fishing research.
  • Cutting the commercial quota to a realistic level. The catch has never reached the level set; therefore it is set too high.
  • Implement a forthright education programme encouraging the use of barbless hooks, one hook per line, circle hooks and an ethic of "Don't kill your limit, limit your kill".

Best release techniques such as the use of tubes, to avoid opportunistic shags, and encourage release of larger prime breeding stock cod e.g. over 40 cms, unless damaged in catching, e.g. bleeding at gills.

A solid, credible research programme should be actioned to gain knowledge of spawning movements and areas, egg and larvae drift. There should be a quest for knowledge via research and encourage all research rather than obstructing, as was done to Piero Rocco's aborted research which had school involvement and sponsorship. Such research, costing the taxpayer nothing, should be reinstated and encouraged.


A complete ban on commercial cod potting in Challenger East should be implemented until migration and spawning study has been carried out. The Ministry seems convinced the current ban is justified but there is much evidence to the contrary. Winter records of fishers in the ban area show by-catches of big and plentiful blue cod. These cod have either moved in or been there all along. Only research will indicate.


An abundance survey could be carried out in 2010 by volunteer recreational fishers with MFish personnel involved to ensure the survey is accepted. NIWA are an option to assist.

The Ministry seems convinced the current ban is justified but there is much evidence to the contrary.

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