Group wants right to fish to become law
Amateur fishers want priority over commercial fishermen. PHILIP ENGLISH reports.
A group of saltwater anglers wants the right to fish locked into law.
The movement, which claims huge support among recreational marine anglers, wants the public's right to fish to take priority over the catches of commercial fishermen.
Known as Option4, the movement grew out of a Ministry of Fisheries consultation exercise last year on the future management of recreational fishing.
The consultation process resulted, not surprisingly, in an uproar over licensing amateur fishers. The option was quickly dropped by the Government before the full consultation process was over. At the time anglers thought they had won a major victory.
But the Option4 watchdog group wants to move on.
"Licensing has nothing to do with our right to fish," says Scott Macindoe, of the Option4 management team.
"While the licensing debate galvanised the public and the media it is now off the agenda.
"The real issue is the priority right. It has been submerged in the licensing debate. It is important that the real issue is kept in the public mind."
The Ministry of Fisheries consultation exercise contained in the Soundings discussion document attracted 61,117 submissions from supporters of Option4, which reckons it made up about 98 per cent of all the submissions made.
During the consultation process the Option4 group called for the public's right to fish to be given priority over commercial catches. It is not seeking the same right to take priority over traditional or customary Maori fishing.
The group is still involved in discussions over the future management of recreational fishing.
It is hopeful of winning support from the Government and bureaucrats for the priority right to fish being enshrined in law.
Option4 is not only seeking a right to fish over commercial fishermen but also wants the commercial sector excluded from recreationally important fishing grounds. It wants a planning right to ensure that fish conserved by the public through voluntary management regimes are reserved for future generations of anglers - not the commercial industry.
Mr Macindoe believes there is an official agenda to "privatise" the New Zealand fishery.
"It will mean taking the fisheries out of public ownership and vesting them in private hands. It will mean a share of our fisheries will be allocated to the public and the public will have to constrain themselves within that overall limit.
"As our population and/or our enthusiasm for fishing grows, so our individual catches will have to be continually reduced to remain within our overall limit. Eventually our bag limits will be reduced to levels so low it simply won't be worth going fishing.
"If we want to eat fish we will find ourselves paying export prices to the fishing industry to purchase back our fish that were given away through this process we are involved in right now.
"The fishing industry will always want more for the very reason that the worldwide demand for our precious inshore fish stocks is insatiable."
The group points to the past to make its argument. In spite of fisheries management processes introduced by the ministry as a consequence of inshore fishing industry practices in the 1970s and 1980s, many recreational fishers still return to boat ramps demoralised with no fish.
The president of the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Peter Jones, said the federation did not have an official view on Option4 at present.
"Option4 is just an option. There are a whole heap of options. We hear a lot of different things."