Kahawai Challenge success
In 2009 the Supreme Court delivered a favourable interpretation of the Fisheries Act in its Kahawai decision. A year later the fisheries Minister decided to allow kahawai stocks to continue rebuilding, primarily to better meet the needs of non-commercial fishers. Notably industry did not contest those decisions.
Amendment to key areas of the legislation would nullify any advantages gained because the Court’s judgment only applies to the current wording in the Act.
Collectively our next challenge is to find effective strategies to exert political pressure on the fisheries Minister to ensure he continues to ‘allow for’ our recreational fishing interests.
Public right to fish
As natural resources are increasingly privatised it is imperative we protect access to our fisheries. Around 20 percent of Kiwis regularly exercise their right to fish. Others fish occasionally or not at all. The right to fish for free is a special and increasingly unique aspect of our Kiwi culture.
If a statutory body and compulsory charging is established this public right to fish will be extinguished and exchanged for a right limited to those people who have paid their fees.
Already there is discussion about mandatory reporting and exemptions for children, Maori, the elderly, and even a day licence for irregular fishers. All are a poor exchange for our current public right of access to a reasonable daily bag limit.
The price of statutory authority
No government is going to surrender its authority to tax the people and grant that right to a statutory body without furthering their objectives in return. Privatisation of New Zealand’s fisheries and reducing political influence over management decisions are both prized outcomes.
Complete privatisation where all of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is a tradable property right would suit Treasury, policy makers, economists, MFish and commercial quota shareholders. All would welcome a recreational quota tagged with specific trading conditions.
But most benefits accrue to the Minister, because it is inevitable that licence fees will be used to “manage” recreational fishers, closely monitor their catch and pay for ongoing research – current Ministerial duties.
Privatisation would enable the Minister to sidestep his public responsibilities and instead set the rules and watch the ensuing carnage from the sideline.
Earlier reform attempts were thwarted because the public protested against constraints on recreational catch and having their interests tightly defined within the quota management system.
Little has changed.
It is not in the public’s wider interests to have a statutory body negotiating management “solutions” using recreational fishing rights and access as currency. These aspects are not for sale.
Reducing political influence over management decisions by diminishing the Minister’s discretion to ‘allow for’ the public’s non-commercial fishing interests would represent the biggest loss; because it is this influence and discretion that protects the public’s interests.
Realistically, no government is going to authorise any interest group to gather taxes and then use those funds to lobby Parliament, hold the Minister accountable and make life more difficult for them.