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Kingfish Article

Put That Kingfish Back So The Commercial Fishermen Can Catch Their New Quota

By the option4 team

July 2003

This article was originally published in the NZ Fishing News July 2003

This year the Minister of Fisheries will divide the kingfish fishery between commercial and recreational fishers(the public). The size of the share allocated should be based on the catch histories of both commercial and the public. The resulting shares in the fishery are permanent, so it is critical that the Minister gets it right.

In a cruel blow to the public who have worked so hard to conserve kingfish over the last 10 years, the MFish Initial Position Paper(IPP) includes a proportional option which will give commercial fishers quota to catch more kingfish than they have managed to catch in each of the last two years, in an open access fishery.

Despite years of grave concerns over the decline of the kingfish fishery, MFish is planning to increase the commercial catch of kingfish.

At the same time they suggest the public, accept a size limit increase (from 65 cm to 75 cm) which will result in us returning 45% of the kingfish that we catch.

Past recreational conservation efforts are not taken into account in the MFish IPP. The allocation model being proposed for setting the (permanent) proportional shares purports to be based on catch history of the sectors. option4 believes the "histories" and the way they have been interpreted fail the tests of :"true and fair".

The truth is that every decision that could have gone the fishing industries way, HAS, and this has had the effect of arguing up the commercial catch history to the maximum it could possibly be. Not one fish has been left out.

Commercial fishers will be issued quota based on (dubious) catch histories arrived at by illegally targeting kingfish in contravention to their fishing permits. Furthermore the histories include the undersized portion of commercial landings over the last 10 years - catch history that is surely redundant given the introduction of size limits for trawlers in 1999 (65cm)

With recreational fishers, the opposite has occurred. Whenever a catch history decision has been made, that part of the public catch history has either been ignored or argued down Incredibly the ministry has discounted the catch histories of recreational fishers under 15 years old and has ignored the catch history of tourists and visitors who have a fish while they are here. Do they plan to ban tourists and children from fishing? If not then surely they must reinstate their catch histories and allow for them.

The Minister can make allowance for past fishing behaviour. So why have the Ministry ignored conservation efforts like voluntary recreational bag limit reductions, previous size limit increases, a successful tag and release programme, the fact that many clubs and individuals are operating at a one metre size limit and many charter boats have a one fish limit and, as a sector are releasing around 60% of their catch alive are ignored.

When recreational catch history tonnage has been assessed only the lowest number possible has been taken into account (as with the research documents the Ministry has selected to formulate the public's catch history) This has the effect of arguing the public catch history down to the minimum possible level and thus resulting in further under allocating the public's share. There simply wont be enough cake to go round and this is the reason for the absurd result that could see the public returning 45% of their catch whilst the fishing industry get additional quota.

Among reasons given for introducing kingfish into the QMS, MFish have suggested commercial fishers develop a targeted, high value kingfish fishery. This flawed allocation model from Ministry gives the fishing industry the all important quota needed to make this happen.


The Double Edged Sword
A second Ministry proposal introduces the brand new concept of "Utility Based Allocation."

While it is good to see MFish acknowledge the need for an allocation method that can reallocate from commercial to recreational /sustenance fishers, it has used the same seriously flawed catch history figures used in its first model. Effectively, what MFish have done is to under represent our catch history while arguing up the commercial catch history in their allocation model and then suggest it will be possible to give us a small portion of our fish back through their utility-based allocation model.

Beware, read this carefully, it is a double-edged sword! If we allow MFish to succeed with it's smoke and mirrors catch history allocation model this will mean that "Utility" is the only argument left for the public to achieve sufficient kingfish to cover their needs.

However, when we inevitably come to allocate fisheries with high value to the fishing industry (like crayfish, hapuku, snapper, broadbill and paua) the sword could be turned upon us and used to slash our catches of these species as they are progressively taken from us and given to the commercial sector.

In this instance option4 does not believe that the Utility model is necessary. Simply a "true and fair" allocation procedure that is based on our real catch history.


Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

If recreational/sustenance fishers had taken no steps to conserve kingfish, had insisted that catch history is everything and caught and landed everything they could, not only would there be few if any kingfish left, they would be in the box seats for getting allocated all the kingfish quota. Sounds a really stupid model, doesn't it? Yet this is the model on which MFish is issuing the fishing industry their quota on!

Under the current Fisheries Act, in a developing fishery, catch history is a basis for allocating quota. The Act says nothing about issuing commercial fishers quota for developing a commercial fishery in a stable, already fully utilized recreational/sustenance fishery with genuine commercial by-catch as was the case with kingfish.

Regulations introduced in 1991 prohibiting the targeting of non-QMS species unless the species is authorized on a fisher's permit were also ineffectual. We have seen with kingfish that the Ministries ability to restrict catch or enforce non-target status for species is nonexistent.

Inexplicably, the Ministries proposal does not mention the adverse impacts the increased commercial catches had on the public's ability to catch a legal sized kingfish as the biomass of kingfish plummeted. Neither does it make a statement outlining how recreational fishers were progressively disenfranchised and their catch history suppressed by the time a decent recreational survey was finally conducted in 2000.


Apples With Apples

option4 suggests the following "Reality Based Kingfish Model" as MFish appears to have forgotten how the kingfish fishery was destroyed and also forgets to mention it's role in failing to constrain commercial catches to a by-catch level. They also seem to think it's all right to give fish conserved by the public to commercial fishers while slashing both the public share in perpetuity and our annual catches from this October. Apparently they haven't allowed for kingfish taken by tourists either.


Commercial Catch History

Targeted Kingfish Catch
Before issuing any commercial quota based on catch history the illegitimate or redundant commercial catch histories must be deducted.

All catch history that was gained by illegitimate targeting kingfish and trampling on the rights of existing users must be removed from the Ministries allocation model. It is the only proper and just thing to do! Why should the public loose access to their historical catch because MFish has failed to manage commercial catches?

We have had a decade of massive targeting of kingfish, set nets on reefs, kingfish catch taken by pilchard fishers in 50mm mesh nets. As recently as 2001, a new kingfish fishery has been developed with the mid water trawl method landing 25 tonnes on average per annum, where previously there was less than a tonne per annum landed

Undersized Commercial Kingfish Catch - Redundant Catch History
MFish must also be directed to remove all undersized catch from the commercial catch history and not allocate quota for it. This catch history is now redundant since size limits have been imposed in the commercial fishery.

Recreational Catch History

MFish proposes only one Allocation Model for determining recreational /sustenance fishers catch history on which to base the public's future share of the kingfish fishery. They have simply taken the average of the last two recreational surveys.

The 1996 survey gave an estimated catch of 440tonnes, a 1999-2000 assessed the
recreational kingfish catch at 1014tonnes. Why, the 1996 estimate massively underestimated the number of recreational fishers. In 1993-94 a survey also gave a higher recreational/sustenance catch than the 1996 survey.

A cynic would think that by using the flawed 1996 survey and comparing it with the 1999-2000 survey MFish could make it look like recreational catches of kingfish were rapidly increasing. The outcome of this flawed model is that it may erode most of the public's historic catch from their rightful catch history and will result in giving public a much lesser share of the kingfish fishery while giving more kingfish quota to the fishing industry. It is certainly possible that the public caught 1000 tonnes of kingfish in 1999-2000.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence from recreational fishers that the kingfish fishery is in decline and some of the comments regarding commercial catches in MFish proposal give little comfort and fail to explain recent falls in commercial catches.

If commercial catches have been inexplicably falling over recent years it is very likely that recreational catches have also been falling. So why do MFish want to allow peak commercial catches from years ago to prop up commercial catch histories while locking the public into the average of one seriously flawed and one very recent catch assessment when the fishery is at it's most depleted.

The commercial catch history of 308 tonnes includes targeted kingfish in contravention to their fishing permits and the undersized portion of commercial catches landed over the last 10 years which, option4 is adamant, must be deducted from the commercial catch history.

Alternately if MFish wish to use the latest recreational catch figures (1014 tonnes) then it must be compared with the latest commercial catch figures (271 average for 2001/2002) This makes the most sense of any of the proposal because the "most recent" commercial catch history does not include previously redundant undersize catch or as much illegal targeting. This would then be comparing apples with apples!

Omitted Catch Histories
All Ministry models fail to recognise the catch history of overseas visitors and children under 15 years old. These legitimate catches form part of our catch history and MUST also be included.

As the Minister is bound under the 1996 Fisheries Act to allow for all mortalities, then he must allow for the tourist and children's catch in the allocation model, unless of course, there are plans to ban tourists and children from catching kingfish.

Was It Worth Conserving Kingfish
The Ministry admits in its paper that no allowance for any recreational conservation efforts are taken into account in determining recreational catch history. What this means is that recreational fishers are being disenfranchised in the allocation process because they conserved fish in the past.

What sort of message are MFish trying to send to conservation minded recreational fishers? In option4's opinion, it is a message that MFish need to desist from sending if they want the recreational sector to continue to conserve.

option4 will be submitting their concerns regarding kingfish allocation and management to the Minister of Fisheries.

For more information on kingfish management and the final option4 submission please go here >>>

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