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The Minister's Article

Soundings Stirs Public Fishers

Minister of Fisheries, the Hon. Pete Hodgson sums up the Soundings process from his perspective as the man at whose desk the public fishing rights buck will final stop.

Seldom in my memory has a discussion document on any topic provoked as much discussion as the 'Soundings' booklet on recreational fishing.

On that score I rate the Soundings process a success. We set out to get the public's views on how recreational fishing should be managed and we're getting them. That's fine with me.

Perhaps it was inevitable that some people would see the process as a contest between fishers and Government. Inevitable, but wrong. Because in fact the Government and fishers want the same thing: better definition and protection of the recreational right to fish.

I made that clear back in July 2000 when Soundings was released. In a speech to the NZ Recreational Fishing Council I said we couldn't go on taking recreational rights for granted. They are under increasing pressure and it's time to work out how we define and protect them better in law.

Soundings put a range of options on the table. These were starting points for discussion, laid out with an open invitation to mix and match their elements and add new ideas.

The joint NZRFC-Ministry of Fisheries working group that put Soundings together never claimed to have all possible answers. The document says as much, very clearly. Instead, the group tried to identify the important questions. I think they did that well.

It disappoints and disturbs me that some of the officials and recreational fishing advocates involved with the process have been rewarded for their work with personal insults and abuse. Thousands of New Zealanders are passionate about their fishing. That does not excuse the poisonous attacks that some of those involved with Soundings have been subjected to, including in the pages of this magazine.

My officials in the Ministry of Fisheries have my confidence and respect. I have theirs. I have no time for those who substitute invective and conspiracy theories for intelligent debate. I am not available for 'capture' by anybody, within or outside government. Wild-eyed columnists take note.

This magazine has nailed its colours firmly to the mast of the option4 group. It is perfectly entitled to do so, of course, but in some ways that is a pity. New Zealand Fishing News has painted itself into a corner before all the ideas have been pulled together and released publicly.

option4 is a valid response to the invitation in Soundings to mix and match ideas and offer alternative solutions. But it is not The Answer, as its supporters insist. This is not a perfect world and nobody has The Answer. By condemning all other possible solutions option4 has sought to narrow and control the debate. My aim is the opposite: to have a debate that is broad and free flowing.

I am interested in hearing a wide range of views about how we should safeguard recreational fishing rights for our children and theirs. I pay close attention to anyone who can sign up 70,000 people to a petition, but the quality of the solutions they offer is still what matters.

The government is some months away from making any decisions. The working group's report on the discussion process is due with ministers in March. We may have a proposal together some time next autumn.

I don't know what our answer will be.

I'm pretty sure that licensing on any scale is unlikely to be a part of it, because Labour's pre-election policy is against it. I let licensing into the Soundings document because some recreational fishing advocates wanted it there. But I don't like it. My very strong hunch is that most New Zealanders don't want to have to pay to drop a line in the sea.

More than that I won't speculate on how the final Government response will compare to option4. I am part of a cabinet and I owe my colleagues that courtesy.

Tough questions surround all the options before us for the future management of recreational fishing. There are no simple answers and all will cost somebody or affect their interests or rights. What I will have in mind in the next few months is that going fishing is, for many of us, part of what it means to be a New Zealander. I began this exercise determined to strengthen recreational rights. I will end it the same way.

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