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Kahawai Fishery Sustainable Dec 2004


Kahawai Stocks Sustainable

by Natasha Mitchell

December 2004


This article was originally published in The Weekend Sun


Caption: Sanford Tauranga manager Ian van der Nagel and commercial purse seine fisherman Kevin Murray say kahawai fish stocks are at sustainable levels and bringing the fish under the Quota Management System will ensure the fish is managed well in the future.

Tauranga-based commercial kahawai fishers are biting back at recreational fishing group claims the total allowable catches set when bringing the species under the Quota Management System from October 1 are ‘unjust’.

The New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council (NZBGFC), New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council (NZRFC), and option4, claim decisions made by Minister of Fisheries, David Benson-Pope, in relation to the kahawai quota were based on ‘inadequate information’. They are mounting a public campaign – the Kahawai Challenge – to raise funds for a legal challenge in the hope a judicial review will force the minister to reconsider the recreational and commercial fisher’s quota allocations.

But Sanford Tauranga manager Ian van der Nagel agrees with comments made by the minister that the catch limits were set conservatively.

“We believe the level set is lower than what it could have been.” The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is 7612 tonnes for all fishers. According to Ian, there would be no threat to sustainability if the kahawai TAC was set at 8200 tonnes.

“But you’ve got to have tight control on who’s catching what and they have to know if they over-catch, they’re in trouble.”

Sanford is the leading company in the New Zealand pelagic fishery, which includes kahawai, skipjack tuna, trevally, jack and blue mackerel. The majority of its kahawai catch is sold to the Western Australian lobster bait market, with local, Eastern European and Middle East markets developing.

The company has consistently fished kahawai in Area One (which covers from Cape Runaway to the Mercury Islands/Whitianga) for 10 years and Ian says it has been easily able to achieve its competitive catch limit during that time. He queries claims by recreational fishers that kahawai stocks are depleted, as does spotter plane pilot and ex-commercial fisherman, John ‘Red’ Barker.

Spotter pilots fly above the sea, letting commercial fishers know where schools of fish are, what species are in the school, and an estimate of the school size. Red has been spotting since 1975.
“I have a good overview. We do see a lot of fish at times, at others we don’t.”

Sanford commercial fisherman Kevin Murray operates one of the company’s five-strong purse seine fleet - boats that use large nets to capture a whole school of fish. Kevin: “To say you can’t catch one off the beach, that’s nonsense.” He says to over-fish would be cutting off his nose to spite his face.

“I’ve been fishing for 27 years and I want to be fishing for 20 more, so I’m not going to ruin it for myself. That’s my livelihood.”

Red says though kahawai were fished heavily during the 1980s, when commercial fishing companies were trying to establish a catch history, he has not seen a lessening in kahawai stocks in the last 10 years. He puts the varying numbers of fish seen by recreational fishers down to seasonal migrations, climate conditions, poor survival rates from spawning, or food shortages in an area.

Like recreational fishers, Sanford is pleased kahawai is now covered by the quota system but says it has fundamentally changed the way the company will fish for the species.

“The QMS provides a clearly defined property right allowing sustainable utilisation of the resource at the same time as eliminating the inefficient and disruptive competitive fishing regimes of the past. But kahawai is now off the menu (for purse seine fishers) - there is no targeting of it at this time.”

This is because from October 1, Sanford’s quota for Area One is 512 tonnes a year for all methods of fishing - purse seine, trawler and long-line, regardless of whether it is caught as by-catch.
Previously there was only a Competitive Catch Limit on kahawai caught by purse seiners. Fish caught as by-catch from other methods had no limit.

Because by-catch kahawai now takes part of the quota, Sanford’s purse seine fleet will only target kahawai specifically from August or September 2005 if the company’s kahawai quota is not filled.


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