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option4 Update #41 NZFN April 2004

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Kahawai – time to stand up and fight for a fair go

NZ Fishing News
April 2004


Kahawai are about to be introduced into the Quota Management System. option4 have serious concerns that once again the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) is putting the interests of commercial fishers above the rights of the public to access this fishery.

If you think the kahawai fishery is in bad shape now you will be outraged at the Ministry of Fisheries latest proposal.   Not only do the Ministry believe there is no scarcity of kahawai, they also do not accept there is conflict between commercial and non-commercial fishers in this fishery.

Why the Outrage?  

option4, NZ Big Game Fishing Council and NZ Recreational Fishing Council met with the Ministry on Friday 2 April 2004, to discuss the introduction of kahawai into the Quota Management System. We walked into the meeting feeling we had extremely strong points to make. The Ministry made it clear that as far as they are concerned –

  • there is no scarcity of kahawai
  • there are no problems caused by purse seine fishing

It is hard to believe the sort of thinking that suggests that purse seining had been good for this fishery.

It appears to us MFish are going to write off our concerns about the decline in kahawai schools as anecdotal. Why are they anecdote? Because the Ministry has not conducted the science to prove one way or the other whether what we are saying is true or not. This means that anecdote is all we have. The reason for this is that the Ministry is either too tight-fisted or too worried about the outcome if they go and investigate our claims. We now have the Ministry openly declaring they do not believe us.

Even if they did believe us, they –

  • do not accept there is any scarcity of kahawai
  • conveniently forget they had to massively reduce the commercial catch limits in the 1990s out of concern for plummeting non commercial catches and the disappearance of surface schools
  • fail to admit the fishery has not rebuilt since the 1990s and catch rates continue to decline, as has the size of the fish and the number of schools
  • do not accept there has been an adverse impact on seabirds, kingfish and other dependant species.

If the Ministry won't listen to and address our concerns then it is clearly becoming a political decision. Our concerns are being ignored and put down as being in the imaginations of the non-commercial fishers.

The kahawai fishery may eventually be reduced to half of the current low level. If we allow this fishery to be managed at maximum sustainable yield then a stock size of 20% the unfished stock will be their management target. The Ministry proposal will allow the kahawai stocks to continue to fall by 60% before these excessive quotas are reduced. This is totally unacceptable.

The purse seine catch history will generate thousands of tonnes of quota developed through plundering this fishery to the detriment of all other users. Recreational leaders believe that using unsustainable target fishing as the basis for allocating quota is unfair and unjust and they are demanding that this catch history must not be used for allocating quota. It was generated at the expense of the rights of other users.

The Ministry's proposal will inevitably inflame the already high level of conflict between commercial and non commercial fishers as the public witness the ongoing disappearance of this fishery. Ministry fails to mention, let alone address, this inevitable consequence of their proposal

Once quota is allocated there is no agreed upon process for adjusting the non-commercial share in the future. Allocation decisions made now will be the basis of indefinite argument. We may well find ourselves stuck with what we get today through this process.

Ministry are

  • not talking about rebuilding the fishery
  • not talking about leaving it where it currently is
  • continuing to fish the stock down lower than it already is
  • continuing to aggravate the conflict between non-commercial and commercial fishers
  • ignoring a highly valued recreational fishery by supporting a low value purse seine fishery
  • not meeting their obligations by omitting to not having an agreed harvest strategy explaining their objectives for the kahawai fishery.

We get the strong impression this is all about putting kahawai into the Quota Management System and then letting the stakeholders fight it out downstream so the Crown can -

  • avoid allocation scandals such as we have seen with scampi
  • escape compensation issues if it has over allocated to the commercial sector
  • avoid having to make management decisions.

It is clear this is a contentious issue. It would appear that the path of least resistance for the Ministry is to add up current utilisation (what we are all catching) and call that sustainable for expediency, regardless of the impact on all non-commercial fishers. This will also leave us battling with a $1.5 billion fishing industry for a greater non-commercial share after they have been issued their excessive quota property rights.

Commercial fishers should be able to land kahawai bycatch. It is the industrial fishing method using spotter planes and purse seine vessels to target whole schools that has done the damage. It is this method that should not be issued quota.

Make no mistake; the proposal as it stands will effectively steal the fish from the 1,000,000 non commercial fishers to prop up a handful of commercial fishing companies who target kahawai; companies who think its better to annihilate your kahawai to feed an Australian cat or a crayfish than leave it alone and risk you catching it to feed your family. Obviously the Ministry of Fisheries hold the same view

PLEASE, log on to Alert # 6 and add your voice to a growing wave of public distaste for the kahawai management proposals.

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