This constraint on compensation has underpinned previous MFish attempts to change the nature of non-commercial fishing rights. These include Soundings (2000), Shared Fisheries (2006), and more recently the Fisheries 2030 project.
Fortunately public opposition thwarted both Soundings and Shared Fisheries but MFish appears to be pressing ahead with its 2030 initiative, regardless of public opinion. There is money to be made.
The Ministry’s solution to extracting more value from our fisheries while protecting commercial fishing is to define the public’s share of the total allowable catch in a particular fishing, and integrate that into the quota management system.
This would enable the Minister to allocate a strict proportion of fish to the public, which could not be exceeded, while retaining the excessive commercial allocations.
Such a fundamental and significant change to public fishing rights can only occur via a law change.
All the signals indicate that this process could start very soon and without public consultation. MFish has advised it will ‘engage’ with stakeholders. The difference may seem subtle but this has huge implications for non-commercial fishing interests, who would have limited ability to influence the outcome.
Consultation requires the Ministry to both have an open mind and provide submitters the opportunity to modify policy. Engagement does not invoke any legal threshold.
Any policy initiatives that affect public fishing must be subject to a robust consultation process. Otherwise we risk having short ‘engagement’ timeframes used as a weapon against us, and possibly sweeteners thrown out to distract us while the main event of legislative change is driven through.
To date it all smells very much like an ambush. Forcing public fishing rights to exist under the quota management system, in the form of a quota right, is something dear to the hearts of commercial stakeholders.
If you treasure your present right to fish and want to continue that tradition then you will need to stand up and be heard when this process gets underway. The alternative is to accept a minority share in the leftovers of a poorly managed quota management system and a form of licensing to make sure your catch remains within the new allocation.