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option4 Update #68 NZFN

The Importance of Maintaining Public Access to Healthy Recreational Fisheries

by Keith Ingram
1 March 2006



This article was originally published in the New Zealand Fishing News April 2006 edition.


Having one recreational representative at the recent “Sharing the Fish 2006” conference in Fremantle meant working together to achieve the best possible outcome. The following speech was a combined effort by the option4 and the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council teams. Keith Ingram, President of the NZRFC, presented the speech to the conference in West Australia on March 1st.

The Importance of Maintaining Public Access to Healthy Recreational Fisheries

New Zealand’s Quota Management System is a mechanism, designed for managing commercial fisheries at or above maximum sustainable yield. Some consider it the best system in the world today. As far as encouraging investment, and managing purely commercial fisheries, that may well be the case.

However, I am here today to talk about the hidden costs of the New Zealand model, the mistakes, and the promises made to recreational fishers, which have been broken in order to get the Quota Management System implemented.

Did you know that around one million New Zealanders fish for food or fun? That’s a quarter of the population!

You would think these folk would be pretty important, wouldn’t you?

If they fish 7 times a year, that is 7 million days of healthy outdoor recreational activity for an otherwise increasingly obese and sedentary population.

Imagine that, real activity, voluntarily undertaken, and well away from the coronary artery blocking alternative of sitting in front of a computer, or television screen while gorging on fast food.

It is a fact that many troublesome youths often excuse drug taking, vandalism, and other wayward behaviour with the all too familiar excuses “I was bored, there’s nothing to do”.

If parents teach kids to fish, it gives them much more than just something to do. It’s character building.

When they catch a decent fish they enjoy a real boost to their self-esteem.

Family relationships and communication are strengthened when that fish, provided by them, is cleaned, cooked, eaten, and the catching of it talked about.

Most likely the parents of some of these teenagers are sitting in front of me now.

Do you have teenagers? I ask you to think about what you would rather have them doing?..................

In New Zealand, recreational fishers catch around twenty thousand tonnes of fish per annum.

The families and friends of the successful anglers eat this catch.

The best thing about eating that fish is WHAT IS NOT IN IT.

There are no foreign antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, artificial colours or flavours;   it is completely unprocessed and unadulterated. Indeed a rare treat in this “ready-to-eat-in-two-minutes” world.

Then there are the benefits of WHAT IS IN IT.

Omega 3 and other essential oils and vitamins. One only has to look at the life span and low incidence of heart disease in populations that eat lots of fish. The Japanese and Eskimos are two other cultures that come to mind.

A recent research paper showed a diet deficient in omega 3 contributes to various disorders. These include difficulty in concentrating, ADHD and similar ailments. A random sampling of students showed a definite trend, those with low levels of omega 3 were failing at school, and more prone to behavioural problems.

In addition to the health and social benefits, the infrastructure required to support one million recreational fishers, undertaking around seven million fishing trips is immense.

Think of the charter boats, accommodation, service stations, ice and bait….. And let’s not forget the manufacturing sector, the boats, rods, chandlery, tackle suppliers and lure makers to name a few.

This in turn, means many people are directly or indirectly employed in servicing recreational fishers. 

To put it into context, the wealth generated by only twenty thousand tonnes of recreationally caught fish is thought to be almost one billion dollars per annum, according to an outdated estimate from the 1990’s

On the other hand, the value generated by the total wild catch of commercial fishers is slightly over one billion dollars. The difference is that the fishing industry has to catch over five hundred thousand tonnes of fish per annum to achieve their figure.

So, just using these rough estimates, recreationally caught fish are likely to be around twenty times more valuable than commercially caught fish. This is not including the savings in health and social expenditure created by a robust and healthy recreational fishery.

Undeniably, recreational fishing makes a significant contribution to the economy of New Zealand and to the wellbeing of it’s people. It is an important part of our culture.

I’ll admit I have made some very broad assumptions to describe my point. However, I am in a room full of experts who are far more capable of accurately determining the true value of recreational fishing than I……

What I cannot understand, is why fisheries managers and economists, like yourselves, so often fail to assess and give due weight to these values.


Our Quota Management System is often promoted as a world leading fisheries management regime.

If this is true, then why do we still have such limited knowledge of the true value of recreational fishing?

And, why do we still have a paucity of information regarding their catches?

How can fisheries be allocated fairly without first answering the two questions I have just asked? The answer is obvious, they can’t!

My point is, just because you cannot quantify something, does not mean it does not exist, or that you should ignore it.

It is of particular concern to my organisation that no credible attempt was made to quantify the real values associated with recreational fishing before the Quota Management System was implemented.


Fisheries Ministers can only make decisions based on the documents and advice they are provided…..

It should be obvious to all here that to omit, or underestimate, vital information on the importance of recreational fisheries can only lead to questionable allocation decisions, deficient stock management strategies and poor planning decisions. Unfortunately, that is precisely the situation we find ourselves in.

The New Zealand fisheries assessment processes are dominated by fishing industry scientists who seem determined that not one single fish should ever die of old age.

Due to fishing industry pressure, and backed by credible economic argument about the value of commercial fishing, we soon have fisheries that are run on the knife edge of maximum sustainable yield simply to appease commercial fishers, and based purely on their economic arguments.

The dearth of information relating to the value of recreational fishing almost guarantees that preference is given to commercial fishers when management decisions are made. Our inequitable system lacks balance and credibility.

This is why many of our important shared fisheries are still being overfished twenty years after the implementation of the Quota Management System.

Some of these fisheries are still only at half the level required to produce the maximum sustainable yield while others have commercial quotas set so high they have never constrained commercial catch and, they are never likely to.

We also have other serious issues to address.

I am talking about commercial quotas regularly being exceeded………. quotas which have been inflated by external agencies, like the Quota Appeal Authority and never reduced back to sustainable levels…….. Things like commercial dumping or other illegal activities ……deeming systems which allow commercial fishers to consistently exceed their quotas.

A major cause of conflict between commercial and recreational fishers in New Zealand is that, even when the evidence clearly points to the actual cause of declining fish stocks, our Ministry fails to address these issues fairly.

Regardless of who has caused the problems in the fisheries, our Ministry have a stated preference for cutting the catches by the same proportion.

The result is that recreational fishers are often punished for the excesses of the fishing industry. Recreational catch is cut because commercial fishers have overfished.

Every time our Ministry has attempted to address the allocation issue, one of their objectives has been to reduce conflict between commercial and recreational fishers. Yet in reality, it is often the Ministry itself that causes the conflict. Commercial fishers simply do what the Ministry allows them to do.

Our Ministry is adamant that neither commercial nor recreational fishers have preference in our fisheries. It is clear to us that this is not true, commercial fishers have indeed been given preference, and for far too long.

Some of you might be aware that my council is currently taking the New Zealand Minister of Fisheries to court over recent allocation decisions.

To resource this action we had to go cap in hand, begging on the streets for public donations.

My council believes public confidence in the Quota Management System is increasingly being undermined by poor allocation decisions. The high level of public support for our court case is a clear example of the widespread lack of faith in the management regime.

Maori have a long history of dependence on seafood to fulfil their spiritual, cultural and traditional needs. Many Maori families still depend upon the sea as a source of food.

Mr. Sonny Tau, chairman of Ngapuhi, New Zealand’s largest tribe, said.

 “The Ministry Of Fisheries has done an excellent job of fooling us into thinking that our rights to fish for food have been catered for under the customary fisheries regulations”. 

“This is as far from the truth as one can get, the fact of the matter is, Ministry have created, in law, three categories of fishers. Customary fishers, recreational fishers and commercial fishers.  Customary fishers are those who collect seafood for a hui, tangi or an occasion of significance.  When we fish to feed our babies, we are categorised as recreational fishers. Therefore 99% of the time Ngapuhi go fishing, we are fishing under the amateur fishing regulations. This is why Ngapuhi have filed an affidavit in support of the legal action taken by recreational fishers.”


Broken Promises - Moyle’s Vision Shattered

Colin Moyle was the Minister of Fisheries responsible for the introduction of the Quota Management System in 1986.

He had the foresight to see that giving private property rights to commercial fishers in shared fisheries would cause a serious imbalance.

Commercial fishing interests, with their new, clearly defined and powerful property rights, would obviously have the most say.

However, Moyle decided to proceed with the Quota Management System because many of our inshore fisheries were so depleted by excessive commercial fishing that something had to be done, urgently.

In order to bring balance to the equation, Colin Moyle developed the National Policy for Marine Recreational Fisheries.

I quote Moyle from the 1989 policy he released to my council,

“The cornerstone of the policy is presented in the first national objective:

To ensure recreational users have access to a reasonable share of fishery resources, Government’s position is clear. Where a species of fish is not sufficiently abundant to support both commercial and non-commercial fishing, preference will be given to non-commercial fishing.

This position reflects Government's resolve to ensure all New Zealanders can enjoy and benefit from our fisheries.

New Zealand is now recoginsed as a world leader in commercial fisheries management. This policy ensures we are at the forefront of recreational fisheries policy as well."

We believed in the promise of preference this policy contained. The Government has clearly reneged on their commitment to recreational fishers. Now they even deny it was their policy. 

So How Do We Move Forward?

Our Ministry of Fisheries has made several attempts at resolving the allocation issue with recreational fishers. All have failed. Six years ago our Ministry stated their main objectives were to cap the recreational catch and avoid compensation issues for the Crown.

Quite a different approach was taken with commercial fishers. The Government compensated them more than one hundred and twenty million dollars to reduce commercial fishing to sustainable levels.

Settling Maori fisheries claims cost more than twice this amount.

Recreational fishers still cannot understand how the Ministry expected to resolve the outstanding recreational allocation issues with no resources. Unless of course, they intended to simply fit us into the leftovers of a poorly implemented Quota Management System.

To date, there has been no proper process to determine a fair allocation model for shared fisheries. A new process is currently underway. Unless the Ministry have changed their objectives, from simply capping the recreational catch and avoiding compensation issues for the Crown, there is little chance of resolution.

An opportunity to better realise the social, cultural and economic values of having a healthy recreational fishery will be lost.

If you are recommending the quota management system for your fisheries, do not make the same mistakes we have made in New Zealand.

We have learnt that recreational fishing and commercial fishing are very different.

Proportional allocations or shares between competing sectors will inevitably lead to recreational catch becoming subservient to - and subsumed - by commercial interests.

It has become obvious that recreational interests need some form of special protection.

Moyle's Promise recognised this and it was a grave error to ignore the wisdom contained in it.

Currently, we are exploring Moyle’s Promise and other measures to achieve some form of protection for recreational interests. Our Council is adamant, Moyle’s Promise is the blue print for managing shared fisheries and we are determined to have it or something very similar introduced into statute.

A recent concept is to manage shared fisheries above or significantly above the level required to produce the maximum sustainable yield. Our Council has yet to investigate or make a decision on whether this alone would be enough.

However it would at least ensure recreational access to fisheries is preserved.

One thing is certain, the longer you leave allocation issues unresolved, the more difficult, and expensive, they will be to fix.

The hidden costs to society, if fisheries are not allocated fairly, are not only economic. Culturally the population suffers through reduced access to a healthy fishery, lifestyle, diet and recreation.

In conclusion, the New Zealand experiment is a perfect example of how not to implement a Quota Management System. Failure to take into account all the values associated with recreational fishing can only lead to a poorer society.

Mistakes and broken promises have been a reality for recreational fishers in New Zealand. I urge you not to follow our example.

The real costs of mistakes are borne by the people of the country. The very people, who often depend on our fisheries to feed their families. Why can’t they buy it from the fish-monger, you ask? Simply put they cannot afford the inflated prices being asked. The QMS has more than doubled the price of fish available to the public.

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