This Update (#40) offers you our perspective on the state of the kahawai fisheries, the key issues and an outline of what the Ministry of Fisheries is proposing. Please pass this on to as many people as you can and ask them to help.
Ever been burgled? If you have, you know how non-commercial fishers feel about the latest proposal to give massive kahawai quotas to the fishing industry. And all because of the activities of a handful of commercial fishing boats which barely make a profit even though they catch most of the kahawai landed in New Zealand.
That’s right. Even though we have been telling the Ministry of Fisheries for over a decade that the kahawai fishery is in serious decline and there are not enough fish available for non commercial fishers, the Ministry has clearly decided to ignore the rights of a million non-commercial fishers in favour of five purse-seine vessels.
Research shows that it takes 20 times longer to catch a kahawai in some areas than it did prior to the development of the purse-seine fishery. Serious concerns of the health of the kahawai fishery have been raised by members of the Ministry’s own staff. Nevertheless, the Ministry ignores the views of some of its own people (and non commercial fishers in general) by insisting there is no scarcity of kahawai. They then compound that fallacy by recommending that purse seine vessels should therefore be given quota based upon their past catches.
By doing this, the Ministry completely ignores the principle of cause and effect. It simply can not, or will not, see that the purse seiner’s huge catches are the major reason for the dreadful state of the kahawai fishery – a fishery which many recreational and Maori fishers have depended on for a feed over the years.
Although records are patchy, we know the purse seine catch has gone from nothing in 1975 to peak at 8300 tonnes in 1988. They have taken over 80,000 tonnes since 1982. It is inconceivable that such massive extractions inflicted over so many years would have had no effect on recreational and customary fishers.
To make it worse the Ministry now wants to give a full allocation to commercial interests based on their catch history. But it wants to allocate to non-commercial fishers based on the recreational catch figures from 1994 onwards - figures which have been eroded by the activities of the very same purse-seine vessels the Ministry favours so much. Just imagine what recreational catch rates would be now if the fishery had not been ravaged by the purse seiners.
So what is it about the purse seiners that makes the Ministry so hell bent on eroding the rights of the public to maintain the purse seine fishery? The Ministry’s own paper shows that our prized kahawai is only worth an average of 44c per kilogram at the wharf to commercial fishermen. Most is exported for fishmeal, crayfish bait and cat food.
We can only assume this whole process is being driven by zealots within the Ministry who would like to see every fish ‘owned’ by someone so that they can demand research funds, take levies from and generally make money through privatising the public’s fish. All this while the humble kahawai is worth 11 to 16 times more to a non-commercial fisher (this figure does not include the social or cultural value recreational and customary fishers place on the fish, or its value as a once easily caught, nutritional food source).
What used to be a bycatch for most fishers became the fish we took home if nothing else was biting. Now the Ministry’s own research shows in some areas 90% of boats return with nothing on board. Shore-based fishers have suffered even worse.