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NZBGFC Broadbill Letter Nov 2001

NZBGFC writes to the Minister re Broadbill

23 November 2001

Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Fisheries
Parliament Building

Dear Minister

The NZBGFC has been asking for some restraint on the commercial catch of Broadbill Swordfish for 3 years now. Your letter to me on the 30 August 2000 gave me encouragement that positive steps had been taken on this issue with Broadbill being scheduled into the 2001/02 sustainability round. That review required consultation with interested parties in time for regulation changes on 1 October 2001 to address this matter.

To date none of this has happened. There has been no formal explanation by the Ministry about how the Broadbill issue is being dealt with or what decisions have been made behind closed doors. Enquires to Mr Tom Chatterton, the MFish representative charged with this project, informed me of delays due to Ministry processing of available information. Also that the process of Broadbill sustainability review was able to be detached from the 1 October deadline as this was a non-quota species and could be handled as an isolated issue. However, I am now led to believe that there will be no review or consultation amongst concerned parties at all. That the Ministry want to stall the management of this fishery until the species is scheduled for introduction into the QMS, which may be 2004 or 2005 if the current schedule is followed. Burying this issue until then is unacceptable.

Minister, the NZBGFC, all its 55 clubs and 31,000 members, find this course of action, if allowed, totally unsatisfactory. Our view of the need to address the sustainability of Broadbill has not changed since our first raising this issue with the previous Minister of Fisheries. We have spent considerable time and energy having this issue addressed in the proper process.

We negotiated a MOU with commercial fishers to protect Broadbill and prevent commercial tuna longlining on a few of the most accessible recreational grounds - today this agreement is being ignored by most tuna longliners. We had been led to believe, and fully expected after MFish review and consultation, that at least some of our suggested controls would be likely. Some of these even had the support of the commercial industry ie. the moratorium on new licenses and restrictions of boat numbers on current licences. There is no evidence that the current commercial Broadbill catch of 1000 tonnes is sustainable or that it would safeguard the species from over fishing until full research is carried out. In fact now that the bycatch has peaked at this level for 2 consecutive seasons, after a rapid rise from 100 tonnes 6 years ago, this should be ringing some alarm bells.

Our members remain deeply concerned that we are witnessing the demise of a world class sport fishery, which could be of long term financial benefit to New Zealand, for the sake of short term commercial gain. Maximising the long-term benefits of the Broadbill fishery (along with other well-known recreation game species such as Marlin and Kingfish) does not come from unrestricted, open-access commercial fisheries. In April this year we had a world record 332.40 kg Broadbill caught on 37kg tackle. Along with the record came numerous reports of hook ups with bigger fish but were subsequently lost and a significant increase in capture rates with more boats now capable of fishing the distant northern grounds. The fish are known to grow over 500kg and the potential exists to rival the famous heavy weight Black Marlin recreational fishery off Cairns.

These few recreational successes have come from three factors, a change of fishing technique, new charter boats built for long distant transits and the fact that there are still some large fish available in remote areas, north of the Three Kings Islands, where strong current make longlining difficult. International American and Australian fishing magazines have firmly put the spotlight on NZ as the place to catch what is considered the king of all Billfish. With just 40 Broadbill landed late last season and the exposure that received, has seen forward bookings of charter boats that cost $2000 a day by international anglers taking virtually all available space of capable boats. Along with this it is expected that many NZ anglers will also venture further afield all around NZ and experiment with the successful techniques developed. While this may seem speculative the fact remains it will not happen if 1000 or more tonnes per year is already exceeding sustainable yield. At the International Billfish Symposium held in Cairns recently we heard that stock assessment work has begun in Australia on the south western Pacific Broadbill and that there is concern about the unconstrained and rapid expansion of the commercial fishery from both sides of the Tasman.

Minister, our primary concern is still to see a precautionary approach applied to the management of Broadbill (as required under Section 10 of the Fisheries Act 1996) until a full assessment can be carried out. We accept that some commercial bycatch is inevitable but know perfectly well - as do your officials - that broadbill continue to be illegally targeted by tuna longliners. Therefore controls are required now.

I urge you to put the Broadbill sustainability process you put in place early this year back on the track. We have shown tolerance to date at the initial slip beyond 1 October 2001 but we must not allow this fishery to remain unmanaged until the species is introduced into QMS.

Yours sincerely

Jeff Romeril

cc Mr Warwick Tuck CEO MFish
Mr Doug Kidd
Mr Ross Gildon President NZRFC
Mr Scott Macindoe Chairman option4  

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