Graeme Dawber, NZACA National Secretary
The RFC Conference 2011 was well supported and well organised, even though the official opening was delayed due to the very first item on the agenda – a walk along the magnificent New Plymouth waterfront boardwalk which took longer than anticipated. The welcoming and blessing coming from a respected local Kaumatua set the scene for what was going to be a multi-culture, multi discipline meeting covering wide ranging topics; all of which acknowledged the way forward was not going to happen unless everyone was going to be included. It was a real reflection of the success of the conference when after delivering the Maori welcome this speaker said “and there will be no use in sending me an invoice to go fishing” indicating that he wouldn’t pay such. However when the same gentleman closed the conference after being in attendance, he stated that “he would be happy to pay the RFC member fee because he felt what was discussed at the conference had persuaded him that what was being proposed made sense both for him and for Maoridom and that the way the conference was run ticked all the boxes as required by Maori”.
The first two sessions were involved around the Politicians with The Minister of Fisheries, the Hon Phil Heatley, in attendance together with Hon Peter Dunn (United Future Party), Hon Shane Jones (Labour), Kevin Hague (Greens) and Hilary Calvert (ACT). This went as expected with the Minister not committing anything and promising less and the other Parties making attractive overtures.
At this session (and by remarks made later during the conference) our present Minister of Fisheries, Hon. Phil Heatley, did not do himself any favours. His speech did not come out at all well and was described as the “Minister of Commercial Fishers” and according to unnamed members, ranks amongst the worst Ministers of Fisheries we have ever had.
Whist Peter Dunne is part of the present coalition Government, and is likely to be so again after the forthcoming election, he was the one who demonstrated both at the conference and by his actions in the past that he and his party policy regarding recreational fishing is the one which needs to have our backing. A speaker at the AGM went as far as saying that providing we could receive in writing Peter’s intentions then recreational fishers should be encouraged to consider giving United Future their Party Vote.
One of the highlights of the conference was the presence of two overseas speakers. Len Olyott, ex CEO of Recfish Australia, spoke during the political session. A point he made, and that was made again and again during the conference by various speakers, was that fisheries management is all about fish as well as about people. Conservation must come first. He compared NSW, who have fishing licences, with Queensland, who don’t have licences, as well as the no licence State of South Australia, stating these two States fisheries management was a shambles and NSW fishers were far better off. He also stressed that a far as politics is concerned that Governments don’t owe us a living and we must be responsible for our own destiny. The “us v. them” does not work and we need to get professional.
In the Q & A session with the Minister he spoke of the National Party Policy of establishing “recreational only areas” and now that he had consulted with commercial and got nothing from them he was now going to talk to recreational. It was obviously clear in this issue and others that who he is going to “consult with” is his choosing and not the stakeholders. He stated that it was not his government’s policy to introduce licensing but would not give an opinion on a “licence” introduced but someone else. He made it clear that Government would not fund lobby groups and there was no money for the likes of the RFC, but maybe, just maybe, there could be money made available to help set up some form of new group.
It was pointed out that the Government had made funds available to Iwi when setting up groups and to the presently being formed Game & Forest Foundation. Other political parties said they would assist in the setting up some form of new overarching organisation and all were in favour and supportive of a statutory body model.
We had a humorous but informative interchange between Grant Dixon (NZ Fishing News) and Daryl Crimp (The Fishing Paper) on how to involve and make the best use of the fishing media. Grant gave the results of a survey carried out by his magazine where the majority of the respondents indicated they were against fishing licences, but if there was to be money paid for some form of licence 80% said they would pay providing every fisher was included with no exception based on race etc.; 82% said they would pay if it enhanced fish stocks and 70% said providing it was operated by rec’ fishers for rec’ fishers. When asked what level of fees people would be prepared to pay the average was $27.
After Miranda O’Connell, the consultant RFC had employed following decisions made at last year’s AGM, and who had been instrumental in putting together the RFC Strategic Plan and Fostering Change ideas, introduced the basic principles of the proposal, the meeting was addressed by Bryce Johnson of the NZ Fish & Game Council and Garry Ottmann of the newly formed Game & Forest Foundation and Martin Salter a former UK Politician and author of the book “Keep Australia Fishing”. All of these outlined the way forward using statutory bodies, how they need to be set up and emphasising that such bodies need to be responsible to Parliament and not the whims of a Minister of the current Government in power – a “public entity” not a “Crown entity”.
The address by Martin Salter was one every fisher in this country should have the opportunity to hear and it is hoped that this will be available in some form or other. The main emphasis was that “doing nothing” was not an option. Find out what works and apply it to NZ, set your own agendas and write your own manifestos. Fishing political parties are not a solution. Important to “ring-fence” licence fees for rec’ fishers in Trust Funds. Noted that no country who has introduced licence fees have later taken them away. “User pays – user benefits” “No pays – no say”
The second day there was a series of workshops discussing a number of set topics. These workshops involved chosen panel with representatives on them from RFC, the Ministry of Fisheries, Commercial fishing industry, and SeaFIC, Environmental and Maori. The topics included the merger of Government Departments. Regional Forums and Recreational only areas.
Another group of topics were more directly on fisheries management and dealt with Marlborough Blue Cod, Crayfish concessions, Yellow Fin Tuna and set nets.
The third topic group was on issues affecting recreational fishing including seabed mining and oil extraction, inshore trawling and the Marine & Coastal Act. This last issue was not really discussed as the conference had run out of time.
Whilst RFC was open in its fears for the merger of MOF into an enlarged department the Ministry personnel present felt that it would really be business as usual.
Regional forums were mainly felt to be the way the Minister meet the requirement of “consulting” and since changed were probably less effective. The issue of recreational only areas received very much a “thumbs down” by most speakers for a number of reasons many of which made sense.
The issues around the Ministers decisions regarding Marlborough Blue Cod were that of confusion with many differing views and opinions and unsure on what criteria was used by the Minister to come to his decision. Crayfish concessions did not receive much attention as there are discussion papers coming out on this and maybe inequity of access was a more important issue than the inequity on size regulations.
A very good audio video presentation was made by a knowledgeable Greenpeace representative on the issue regarding the lack of Yellow fin in NZ over past two seasons and the fishing methods being used in the Pacific. Much is being done by many bodies over these matters.
Greenpeace is urging canned tuna buyers to ensure the catch has come from firms using sustainable methods. In NZ, Foodstuffs Brand is aiming to meet these methods by the end of this year but Sealord isn’t making such comittments. At the AGM a resolution was put and passed giving the Council’s support to Greenpeace on these matters. With regard to set nets ban on the West Coast of the South Island the Minister has opened up the fishery for commercial but the set net ban for recreational is still under review.
The feeling of the conference was that it had no difficulty with requirement that the fisher must be in attendance with their nets.
Sand mining did not get a lot of attention but a very good audio video presentation was made by another knowledgeable Greenpeace person on the opposition to deep sea oil drilling. They were not against shallow sea drilling but anything over 1500metres was seen as a problem if anything went wrong. The AGM latter discussed the request for the Council to express its opposition to such drilling. The decision arrived at was to put the onus back on Government that such permits would only be issued if there was absolute assurance of the safety of the operation and the protection of the environment. It was acknowledged that an oil spill in the oil research area off the East Cape which was also in an earthquake and volcanic area would be disastrous on the fishery and the coastline.
Keith Ingram was given time to present a funding alternative to licensing which basically involved a system of fishers registering for a fee and giving information on catch activities (which could be a nil return) each week and they would then go in for a weekly draw for a small prize. They then would also be eligible for a larger monthly draw and then in turn eligible for a very substantial annual prize. Every return they make gives them an entry into the draws. The knowledge and data gained from these catch returns would then be a saleable resource by the organisation to the likes of the Ministry or the tackle industry etc. No discussion or decision was taken on this presentation.
Keith showed that there were alternative funding options available for a statutory body other than licences.
The final major matter of the conference was a presentation again by Miranda on a methodology that could be used to bring to fruition what was the ultimate objective of the Strategic Plan. This is called “Future Search”. Putting it its simplest terms it is to get everybody/organisation/bodies together, lock them away in a room, with a trained facilitator, for three days until they come out with a workable and acceptable solution. It was stressed that all stakeholders would have to be involved, including the Ministry and Maori for this to work – there can be no exceptions. The “world guru” on Future Search from the US has expressed a willingness to facilitate such a meeting. It would take a lot of preliminary work and could well happen by mid 2012. The advantage of this method is that it removes the need for countless meetings and talk feasts between parties who were often in conflict.
The Conference itself was wound up by Derrick Paull giving an excellent ten minute summary of the total proceedings.
The AGM itself occupied the afternoon on the final day. The normal procedures took places such as apologies, past minutes, finance etc. Because of the employment of Miranda O’Connell for almost 12 months the RFC was now very low on funds and steps will need to be taken to try and rectify that situation. Funding applications have been made but the greatest need was to increase the individual membership. The employment of an administrator was seen as a high priority and the re-employment of Miranda to take the Strategic Plan to its next stage and embark on the “Future Search” program. Hopefully some of the funding for this latter aspect may come from Government or similar…
A motion was put to be dealt with at next AGM about raising the club contribution from the present $1 per member to a more realistic level.
Geoff Rowling was elected back as President, Sheryl Hart (Raglan) and Shane Boese (Marlborough) were elected as Vice Presidents. There was a re-shuffle of the nominations for the vacant board positions to allow Derrick Paull to be elected. National Organisations were also granted non-voting ex-officio positions on the Board. The pre-circulation RFC Strategic Plan was briefly discussed. Its adoption would mean the RFC would have two tasks.
One being the fostering of change to some future organisation which would see it eventually going out of existence; and two, carrying on with its present tasks and responsibilities in the meantime. The Strategic Plan was adopted by the conference being seconded by the NZACA.
There were some changes made to the Constitution so as to make the Council more eligible for Charitable Trust status. Also some other minor changes to do with audit and winding-up clauses.
The general opinion being expressed was that this conference was one of the best for many years with good attendance and a positive feel with a real desire to move forward and make the changes necessary for the betterment of rec’ fishing in this country.