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Commercial overfishing has taken a devastating toll on the health of our fisheries populations. What can be done to remedy this?


David Bennett

Recent proposals to slash whitebait season and close down fishing in marine reserves show that New Zealand is facing a challenge in maintaining the health of our fisheries. Fishing in New Zealand’s oceans is divided into commercial and recreational fisheries and we have a quota system that is designed to allocate an appropriate limit for commercial fishing according to scientific data. A major challenge for the quota system is keeping a balance between commercial and recreational entitlements. Recreational fishing is slowly increasing in popularity and these recreational catches are cutting into the commercial fishing quotas. This ‘double up’ effect may run the risk of overfishing. Moving forward, it is key that the greatest care is put into managing the quota system to ensure that the commercial limit allows business to thrive but also maintains a vibrant and viable long-term fishing resource. Whilst in Government, the National Party proposed to do this by installing in-depth digital monitoring systems on more than 70% of commercial fleets. These systems would have helped ensure that no one was taking more than is appropriate. It was disappointing to see Labour scrap these plans and fail to introduce any new safeguards against commercial overfishing.

This failure to act is bizarre when you look at the Government’s extreme overreaction in their proposal to ban whitebait fishing altogether. The Green Party’s Eugenie Sage is currently attempting to pass legislation that could see whitebait fishing outlawed in the next two years. This legislation would see the death of a kiwi tradition and a destruction of livelihoods that rely on the whitebait industry. The current Government demonstrates the dangers of too little or too much restriction, missing the happy medium in between. The response to commercial overfishing needs to be balanced and take an evidence-based approach. The Government needs to safeguard our resources to ensure sustainability but not at the expense of commercial fisheries and Kiwi livelihoods.

Jamie Strange

New Zealand’s marine environment is fifteen times larger than its land mass. This environment is home to unique marine mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates. Effective fisheries management is an important key to safeguarding this environment for future generations. This Government is working hard to balance the commercial benefits from fisheries with the responsibility to protect our treasured marine mammals and seabirds, always looking to reduce the impact of fishing on our environment. We can do this by investing in evidence-based decision-making, seeking iwi and community input, and focussing on innovation. We’re already looking out for fish stocks around the country by: condemning fisheries abuses and celebrating sustainable practices; regularly reviewing the total allowable catch for certain species of fish in different areas; devising fishery management plans for the likes of blue cod and Chatham Islands pāua that are seriously depleted in some areas; and drawing up plans for the management of special areas and in some cases designating marine protected areas. Another way this Government are looking out for our fish stocks is through digital monitoring. Commercial fishing vessels must now report their position using geospatial position reporting devices and record their catch in e-logbooks. This real-time information supports better decision making when setting catch limits.

Further to this, all commercial fishing vessels at risk of encountering the rare Māui dolphin must now operate with on-board cameras. Our Government believe this will drive positive behavioural change, while greatly improving the quality of fishing data. Digital monitoring gives New Zealanders, and consumers around the world, confidence that fish from our waters are being managed and caught sustainably. Future generations rely on us protecting our oceans and fishing sustainably, and we must continue to vigilant around supporting our marine environment.

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Editorial – Issue 8