The QMS — 24 February 2011
How the QMS works

The Quota Management System (QMS) became law in New Zealand in 1986.

In 1990 the system was amended and the idea of proportional quotas was introduced.

A review started in 1991 ended in the introduction of the 1996 Act, which eventually came into force in 2001 with the ACE (Annual Catch Entitlements) system.

As of 2011, the system operates in practice by certain species being proposed by various groups to be reviewed.  The review process involves estimates being made of the current state of the fishery, and guesses about what the probable original biomass was, and other guesses about a theoretical idea of a Maximum Sustainable Yield.   The law is written in such a way that the minister is required to set catch levels at a level that will result in the population be at or above the Biomass that will produce the maximum sustainable yield (Bmsy).   To do this he is required to set a Total Allowable Catch (TAC).

The theory is that minister is required to make allowance for recreational and traditional fishers, and then the remainder is allocated to commercial fishers as a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC).

Lots of issues with the theory.

The idea of Bmsy is essentially a economic idea, not really a biological one.

In biological systems, all things are connected, and one cannot do anything to any part of a biological system without expecting impacts on all aspects of all other systems.   This was too complex for bureaucrats to contemplate – so they settled on a much simpler idea from economics.

Another problem with the theory is how we measure things.   It is really difficult to see fish.  Mostly they are way under water, and towing thousands of cameras around, and employing people to look at the video and count fish, is expensive, so they use estimates, and make assumptions, and then fit these assumptions into mathematical models (mostly what are known as MCMC models {Markov Chain Monte Carlo simulations} ).

These models are very sensitive to the base assumptions, and produce masses of output, and use some very complex mathematical and statistical ideas – to argue with them you need to be prepared to dive deep into mathematics.   There is plenty of room to argue, but few people willing to take the dive.

Each year there is an open plenary session where scientists, fishers and conservationists thrash out a set of recommendations to the politicians (the politicians are also subject to intense lobbying by all interest groups, outside of the bureaucratic process).

The amazing thing is, that this process seems to work to a degree.

There is a growing consensus that there would be considerable benefit in backing off from Bmsy, and leaving substantially more fish in the water.   This would result in a small drop in commercial catch (maybe 15%), but also considerable reduction in costs, and increases in flexibility as to when fish could be caught.

That consensus is growing, but is not yet fully bedded in.   There is still a lot of room for political and economic concerns to drive the biology into deep trouble.   For the foreseeable future, there is a strong need for a strong and competent input to all levels of the management and political process, to ensure there are fish in the water for the average kiwi fisher to go out and catch.

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