Short Shrift for Grumpy Fish Firms
by Tim Hunter
29 October 2006
This article was originally published in the Sunday Star Times October 29th 2006.
The fishing industry, which has reacted with dismay to the government’s new shared fisheries policy, should look beyond its narrow self interest, says Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton.
“The industry has some economic rights, but they need to look in the mirror,” he said. “Why is it that you can’t catch a fish at 90-Mile Beach? It’s because trawlers went back and forth and caught them all.”
The policy, released on Wednesday is an attempt to balance the conflicting interests of commercial and non-commercial fishing for inshore species, particularly snapper, blue cod, kahawai and rock lobster. A core feature of the discussion document is the reallocation of allowable catch towards recreational and customary fishers to rebuild fish stocks.
Seafood Industry Council chief executive Owen Symmans said the thrust of the policy was unexpected. “I’ve got a lot of concerns. We’ve got an internationally recognised quota system in New Zealand. We were looking for some enhancement of the, but it seems the discussion document is about reallocation of quota away from the commercial sector.”
Robin Hapi, chief executive of major quota holder Aotearoa Fisheries, said the implications of the policy needed careful analysis to ensure Maori interests were preserved.
“I know there will be a big issue around undermining the value of the [treaty] settlement.
“We’re about protecting the rights we fought so long and hard to acquire. I don’t think Maori can just stand by and allow this thing to float on – there’s a need for a real close analysis.”
Anderton said the policy acknowledged the potential for a loss of commercial value and for the first time the government was explicitly considering compensation. Cabinet took some persuading to make the concession, he said, “I’ve still got the scars to show how tough that is.”
How compensation is implemented is likely to be a significant bone of contention, with the policy remaining vague on how the process would work.
Symmans said the industry’s view was clear. “Our position is that if there’s going to be a reallocation it must be at a market rate on a willing buyer, willing seller basis.”
At its heart, the discussion document is an attempt to resolve the long-running arguments between recreational and commercial interests. New Zealanders, Anderton said, considered it a birth right to be able to gather seafood and that right could only be maintained if there were enough fish in the sea.
While recreational fishers complain of falling catches and smaller fish, some in the industry dispute the need for a reallocation.
Greg Bishop, managing director of Leigh Fisheries, near Warkworth, said snapper were “abundant”.
“Today for example, we got 20 tonne of snapper. The stock’s very healthy.”
Bishop echoed a common industry concern that lack of information about the recreational catch meant it was underestimated.
“If we got a true picture of what the recreational fishers are taking from the sea it would be on a par with the commercial catch,” he said.
Anderton said measure to improve knowledge of the recreational catch were an important part of the policy. It was “almost a stone cold certainty” that charter boats would have to be licensed and required to report their catch.
He said the government was also prepared to finance a trust to provide professional support and information on recreational fishing.
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