Current Issues Members Muse — 19 May 2011

The crux of discontent for recreational fishers of New Zealand is “Where do we sit as sustenance and recreational fishers?” Since the establishment of the “property rights” and monetary value of these property rights of commercial fishermen, the status of fishers who fish for fun and a feed, has eroded into a grey and unknown position. The Ministry of Fisheries has protected commercial on the grounds of these “ property rights” above all others, except perhaps customary Maori who rightly have traditional customary rights to our fisheries. The Ministry must also acknowledge Maori’s position and Treaty rights, but unfortunately New Zealanders including recreational Maori who fish for food and fun are left frustrated by a decreasing amount of fish, that are smaller and less abundant. The catch cry of recreational fishers is “More Fish in the Water,” but alas, abundance is shrinking in many fisheries.
Recreational representatives who have battled for years for our fair share of the fishery have taken the Ministry of Fisheries to court over the over- allocation of kahawai, the people’s fish, to bulk harvesting methods by commercial purse seining vessels. The decline of this important fish that is slowly rebuilding, yet now the ministry are asking for submissions on a few Ministry “chosen” options of just how much of the kahawai stocks will be bulk harvested once again.
The Ministry Inshore team have already made a “technical” adjustment to slash the people’s allocation, almost in half.  This is the thin edge of the wedge, where proportionately, our people will end up with a smaller slice of the biomass pie. Sadly, an option that is missing in the choice of options the people have made, is the option to leave this “people’s fish” alone, and that it becomes a recreational only species and fishery. Of great concern to informed recreational representatives, is that the president of the government’s National Party is a major shareholder of  Sandford Ltd, who will be doing much of the bulk harvesting of our kahawai.
So, the priority rights that commercial have with their ownership of their property rights (given to them for free on their catch history) will win the day, once again when the Ministry advises the outcome of the submissions on kahawai.
The facts are that recreational fishers have the numbers of around one million fishers, and the revenue derived from recreational fishing, far exceeds the profits commercial will generate from converting kahawai into cat food or Australian crayfish bait. The statement that many recreational representatives make, is  that the ministry have ALREADY decided on the outcome of the options, well before actual consultation with the public, could well be true. It is a fact that the ministry must consult with the people.
It seems a fact to me, that commercial have a priority over the people and probably over customary Maori, when delivering the Total Allowable Catch to commercial for kahawai.
The simple fact that our allocation to kahawai has been slashed around half on a “technicality” is more proof we are losing ground to commercial.
Another issue that is close to my heart where I live is the “inequity” of size of rock lobsters that commercial can take undersized crayfish in the Gisborne CRA3 fishery, during June July and August. A quota holder in the commercial sector who is strongly against this so called “concession” describes it as “making an illegal activity, legal.”
This “concession” began in 1993 and by now, thousands of tonnes of undersized lobsters have been harvested by commercial out of the CRA3 fishery.
This particular issue has raged on particularly since 2000, after the large marine reserve was established near Gisborne in 1999 and the abundance of rock lobsters took a dive, owing to commercial’s shifted effort closer to town.  DoC failed to allow for less rock lobsters to be available owing to the closure of fishing grounds caused by the marine reserve. The Ministry were too slow to react, and allowed commercial to fish as hard for seven consecutive years with a massive Total Allowable Commercial Catch of 327 tonnes, for far too long. The “concession” was only an interim measure when it was set up in 1993 to be reviewed three years later. Coupled with this “deal” was that legislated “closed seasons” would be set up for all sectors to protect lobsters while soft shelled or in berry. The fishery increased dramatically as the main tool of the deal was that the TACC would be cut in half on the proviso that commercial be allowed to take smaller male rock lobsters for three months in winter until abundance was restored.  The first size analysis of the commercial catch after the concession was agreed to, was close to 100% of the total commercial catch were undersized concession fish. As the fishery took a severe fall, after the marine reserve was established, the commercial asked recreational to allow them to change the legislation and abolish the legislated closed seasons, (to let them fish year round and fish longer) the recreational representatives asked that the concession be abolished, now that the fishery had produced greater abundance. However this inequity continues till this day. Many recreational representatives walked away in disgust as the commercial people dug their toes in. This is extreme INEQUITY that the commercial sector holds over the people of the East Coast and many visitors to Gisborne over summer, still exists today.
Myself, as the recreational representative battling for equity or a level playing field in this issue, have on behalf of our mandate offered a solution where some areas where the people live and fish be made “recreational Only Areas.” We even offered that the concession continue, if we had the spatial separation. Seems fair enough to us. We are not greedy.
The National government promised in their pre-election Policy document in their “Aquaculture and Fisheries Policy” that “significant areas would be established as Recreational Only Reserves.” Minister Phil Heatley has baulked on this policy promise so far, yet the prime Minister John Key, it is rumoured has asked his ministers to deliver on the National Party pre-election promises. All we ask for is to address the Spatial Conflict issue and the “inequity of Size” issue for the East Coast CRA3 fishery. Therefore, areas closed to commercial and that commercial target the same size as us.  It is all about the INEQUITY of access and PRIORITY status that commercial have over the fishers who fish for fun and a feed. I also do not feel confident any more, in the status that “Customary Maori” have first priority in the fishery, then “Recreational Fishers,” followed by “allowing for” “mortality and the illegal take” and ending with what is left over of the biomass which should become the “ Total Allowable Commercial Catch.” Something is drastically wrong in the recognised sequential status of each sector for all fishers in New Zealand.
Even Customary Maori seem to be watered down in their pride of place. Maori have a genuine “fix-it” tool which can exclude commercial fishers from a traditional fishing ground. This is called Mataitai. It is specifically to control localised depletion. It also controls extractions by excluding commercial bulk harvesting methods. It can allow commercial to fish at times, but not simply pick and chose which commercial who can fish within a Mataitai. Mataitai is there for “Local Area Management.” It does not exclude Pakeha. It is there for all users, to enable them to fish for a fair daily bag for both sustenance and enjoyment of the fishing experience. It will be managed as per abundance and a Rahui (a period of closed fishing for all) could be installed if fishing has been destroyed by over fishing, like the inshore grounds around Gisborne. No where else in New Zealand is there such commercial fishing pressure on the people’s very doorstep. However, the Ministry of Fisheries is stagnating processing Mataitai applications. I wonder why?
Another example, and a valid reason for a Mataitai near Gisborne town, would be because of serious  localised depletion caused by a newly found scientific fact of “slow growth.”  NIWA scientists Paul Breen and Paul Starr as well as the Mfish scientist John Sullivan established and recognised that the Gisborne rock lobster fishery has experienced a unique phenomenon, of “slow growth” in lobsters. This is not found anywhere else in New Zealand. This is probably caused by incessant over handling and stress. Debbie Freeman did a huge thesis peer reviewed and tagged many thousands of lobsters in and around the marine reserve. Lobsters grew at normal rates inside of the marine reserve, (where protected) but extraordinarily slow, outside of the marine reserve. Debbie Freeman re-measured these tagged lobsters and established that some lobsters even actually shrunk at times, because of broken limbs or feelers or stress from over handling. Black Rot handling damage was 27% just outside of the marine reserve, where commercial targeted heavily, but under 1% inside of the marine reserve, where no fishing was allowed.  The Ministry would not accept this fact I pointed out, given to me by DoC, when I first brought it up at the CRA3 working group, but behind the scenes it was finally established as fact. Lobsters in this area only grow 1mm to 1.5mm per moult, thus making the lobsters far less available to recreational fishers who have to wait and take larger size. Commercial in fact now have several seasons of harvesting opportunity on these slow growing lobsters, before any “missed” ones become available to recreational fishers who have to stick to the National size of 54mm males for normal recreational fishers. This is another huge example of INEQUITY and PRIORITY that commercial enjoy over the people of New Zealand.
Some may say Customary Maori can still take small undersized lobsters under the customary regulations. Well that is true, but let me say there are Kaitiaki who issue “all sorts” of customary permits. Some state a size while others do not. The true, customary Maori around Gisborne town actually want the commercial concession to be abolished because all that is left for them are the very small lobsters that are even too small for commercial to keep, that are below the “illegal made legal” concession, commercial enjoy. Commercial do gather rock lobsters as by-catch for customary Maori but must put them in separate labelled bins. Therefore Customary lobsters harvested for Maori customary are mainly smaller than commercial can use or are damaged ones. For Hui and Tangi, it is considered unacceptable and insulting to be offered “weta-sized” crayfish. After all, if recreational fishers took rock lobsters of the same size as commercial do, for themselves or for customary Maori, we get fined. Simple as that. It’s called Inequity and Priority for commercial fishers only. One must ask, “Why should Maori be given the very smallest and damaged lobsters for important Hui and Tangi?  This is wrong.
So finally, it is a fact that recreational fishers who fish for fun and a feed, are placed in a lower category than commercial. We are at the bottom of the heap in priority status.
Call it “Inequity” or a “Priority” for commercial fishing. For sure, the above scenarios spells out the status of Recreational Fishers of New Zealand, for kahawai as well as rock lobsters..   Think about it.

Article written by Alain Jorion

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