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Kahawai Court Challenge 2004


Court Challenge to yet Another Fishing Decision

By Tim Donoghue



This article was originally published in The Independent




Recreational fishermen have joined forces with Maori to mount a High Court challenge to Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope's decision to introduce kahawai into the quota Management system (QMS) on 1 October.


Taking the judicial review case against Benson-Pope, expected to be filed in the High Court in early 2005, will be the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council (NZBGFC), the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council (NZRFC) and option4.


Spokesmen for all three groups say Benson-Pope's QMS allocation decisions for kahawai were so unjust they had to be challenged in court.


In his 1 October 2004 announcement, Benson-Pope unveiled a total allowable kahawai catch of 7,612 tonnes, comprising 1,007 tonnes for Maori, 3,415 tonnes for recreational fishermen and 3,035 tonnes for the commercial sector.


He also allowed 155 tonnes for “incidental mortality.”


Twenty years ago, kahawai, a fighting fish, was a popular species with most Kiwi kids. But numbers have sharply dropped and recreational fishermen seem set to turn kahawai into an election issue.


They blame commercial fishermen, saying the overall kahawai catch during the past two decades has decimated the fishery.


They also note the 6,000 tonne average commercial catch realises a meagre return of about $3.2 million to the economy.


The main buyers of kahawai in recent years have been companies in Australia, the Middle East and Russian.


Scott Macindoe of option4 says his group will seek court declarations to set aside Benson-Pope's kahawai QMS decisions.


Macindoe says evidence to be produced in court would seek to show Benson-Pope had failed to:

  • Allow for non-commercial interests by recognising such interests had to be allowed for before determining the commercial catch for the fishing year;
  • Allow for non-commercial fishing interests by allocating the commercial catch on the basis of catch history depleted by purse seine fishing;
  • Consider the cause and effect of fishing upon this important non-commercial species – in particular, the effects of the purse seining method of catching whole schools of kahawai; and
  • Recognise likely imbalances in quota Management for non-purse seine commercial fishers caused by allocating a large percentage of the commercial catch to the purse seine fleet.


Under the purse seine fishing method, schools of fish are surrounded and caught by nets with two boats working in tandem. Macindoe says the combination of spotter planes, working with commercial and purse seine fleets, had obliterated about 4000 schools of kahawai in the past 20 years.


Among the fishing companies who pushed the business case for kahawai to become part of the QMS was Sanford Fisheries, the leading company in the New Zealand pelagic fishing industry.


Sanford operates five purse seiners from its Tauranga base and provides work for about 104 staff.


The purse seine fleet operates year-round for such species as skipjack tuna, jack mackerel, blue mackerel and kahawai.


The fleet earns Sanford from $18 million to $25 million in sales each year. Sanford considers the kahawai fishery is a robust recourse, capable of sustaining current recreational, commercial and customary fishing levels.


Macindoe said in taking the case, recreational fishermen had consulted with, and been supported by, Maori customary rights fishers.


Macindoe said Maori would be the losers “physically, spiritually and psychologically.”


Tribal mana had been lost as the annihilation of kahawai meant the species was unavailable for hospitality purposes to visitors, he said.


“The well-documented traditional catches of kahawai by Maori at river mouths such as the Motu River will recover only if more fish are left n the sea.


“We also ask, what good is exercising non-commercial customary fishing rights (or recreational fishing rights) if entire schools of kahawai are ‘missing in action', having been fed to Australian crayfish,” Macindoe said.


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