A recreational fishing advocacy group hopes a new direction in fisheries management will mean its fears over the vanishing resource will finally be heard.
The new Labour-led government is dismantling the former Ministry for Primary Industries and will split it into three parts covering forestry, fisheries and agriculture to allow greater focus on each sector.
Scott Macindoe from recreational fishing advocacy group LegaSea said fisheries have been lumped in with forestry and farming under the MPI banner since 2012 but it had never sat well within the portfolio.
LegaSea is the public outreach brand of the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council, which has 59 clubs nationwide and 34,000 members.
Mr Macindoe said tougher rules were needed to stop the commercial fishing sector depleting coastal fishing stocks. He said the Quota Management System has seen New Zealand fisheries driven to the point of total collapse in some areas of the country and recreational fishers have been calling for a change to the way these fisheries are managed.
“The trawlers are going up and down the beach and on the rocks, just clear-felling the entire Area 2 – which goes from East Cape in the north to Wellington the south. So, Area 2 is a tragic basket case,” Mr Macindoe said.
He said 85 percent of recreational fishing in New Zealand occurs north of a line from Lake Taupo, but disputes claims there is little information on the impact from the growing recreational sector.
A Bay of Plenty commercial fisherman and Federation of Commercial Fishermen member said commercial fishers are often blamed for the decline in stocks in areas dominated by recreational fishers.
Brian Kiddie said the quota management system has led to a noticeable improvement in fish stocks.
Fisheries academic Randall Bess is researching the subject for a national policy advisory think-tank, the New Zealand Initiative. He said on a recent national roadshow it was clear there is concern about decreasing fish stocks.
“It’s pretty obvious to people that historically the government’s attention for managing fisheries has been in deep water fisheries, and had nothing to do with recreational fishers.
“We’re getting more and more of the conflicts between fishing sectors in the inshore space and that’s where we really need the commitment to improve things,” Dr Bess told RNZ at the time.
Mr Macindoe said the science research organisation Niwa has good data on harvest estimations, but what is not yet clear is how many actually go fishing and how often. He said Census data could provide those details.
Dr Bess also welcomed news of the changes to MPI.
“It’s clearly showing that the new government is acknowledging that MPI has been dysfunctional in its operations – I take that in relation to fisheries – and that a change is needed.”
Dr Bess said the Quota Management System is the best arrangement so far for managing commercial fisheries, and it has been replicated by other countries.
“It’s now at the point of about 25 percent of the world’s catch is taken under a QMS-type system, so it’s clearly working well in that regard.”
Dr Bess said New Zealand has been recognised internationally for having some of the best-managed fish stocks in the world, but there is concern about cut-backs in levels of research, leading to large intervals of no information and the risk that fisheries could change rapidly.