New Zealand's Fisheries Crisis

New Zealand's Fisheries Crisis

The management and governance of our fisheries is in crisis. There is widespread concern about declining fish stocks and biodiversity loss in our marine environment. 

The Fisheries Act 1996 has not been adequately applied to achieve its primary purpose of sustainable use of fisheries resources to provide for our collective well-being.

Management has descended into endless discussions about maximising the catch while avoiding collapse. The (at times) heated debate around allocation of catch between sectors, which has lasted nigh on 30 years, is still largely unresolved.

The (at times) heated debate around allocation of catch between sectors - recreational, commercial and customary interests - has lasted nigh on 30 years and is still largely unresolved.

The (at times) heated debate around allocation of catch between sectors - recreational, commercial and customary interests - has lasted nigh on 30 years and is still largely unresolved.

The current regime is not delivering the economic, cultural and social potential that New Zealanders aspired to when the Quota Management System was introduced. 

Symptoms of our failing Quota Management System

In 1986, New Zealand adopted the Quota Management System to better manage commercial fishing. The number of boats and commercial fishers were drastically reduced, but the economic benefits promised by its introduction have not been achieved. 

The bulk of New Zealand’s commercially-caught fish is still exported at low prices, with little or no added value. Regional ports have lost many family fishing businesses. And 78% of all quota is now owned by 10 entities.

These quota owners siphon off the bulk of the profits, reducing the returns to the hard-working fishermen and women. For example, a longliner fishing north of Auckland was recently paying $4.50 per kilo for bait while only receiving $4.30kg for his catch.

The non-fishing public want to be able to tap into the resource with fairly-priced fish. This snapper, sold as fresh NZ caught produce, was cheaper in Melbourne last year than could be bought at the time domestically.

The non-fishing public want to be able to tap into the resource with fairly-priced fish. This snapper, sold as fresh NZ caught produce, was cheaper in Melbourne last year than could be bought at the time domestically.

Why are fish stocks in crisis?

Our fish stocks are in dire straits because of laissez faire management by successive Ministers and Ministries, and because the Quota Management System has enabled quota holders to form a powerful lobby. This bloc resists any reductions to catch limits and denies the small scale commercial fishers a reasonable return for their efforts. As a consequence, commercial fishing has been reduced to lowest cost operations while the quota holder collects maximum rent.

Thirty years of inshore trawling and dredging has meant major reforms are now needed to address:

1) Dumping: use of non-selective methods leads to the capture of unwanted fish, precious birds and marine mammals.

2) High grading: fishers only retain marketable fish and discard the rest.

3) Gifting of fish: exploitation of a natural resource with no resource rental return to the public.

4) Destructive fishing practices: bottom trawling and dredging damages critical habitats.

5) Under funding: inadequate funding for effective policing and monitoring.

6) Setting maximum catch limits: ignoring the diminishing number of fish in the water.

The QMS permits dredging and bottom trawling, and dredging in inshore waters including nursery areas.

The QMS permits dredging and bottom trawling, and dredging in inshore waters including nursery areas.

In a nutshell

Rescue Fish is a holistic solution to address depleted fish stocks and biodiversity loss.

This innovative policy package has been developed by a team of experts with an in-depth knowledge of the issues facing New Zealand’s fisheries management system, and the resulting environmental, economic, cultural and social impacts. Implementation will make our marine environment more productive and deliver benefits for all New Zealanders.

The problems

The solutions

1. The Quota Management System (QMS) has created a powerful lobby of commercial interests that block initiatives to rebuild depleted fish stocks.

1. Dismantle the Quota Management System. Establish new legislation and governance structures so the Crown and Maori can collaborate and exercise guardianship of our fish and marine resources.

2. The QMS permits dredging and bottom trawling and dredging in inshore waters including nursery areas.

2. Ban bottom trawling and dredging from inshore waters and sensitive marine habitats.

3. Small scale commercial fishers do not receive a reasonable return for their efforts. This encourages low cost, bulk harvesting of fish.

3. Reintroduce competition and innovation to commercial fishing. Encourage regional artisanal fishing enterprises to create jobs and higher value per kilo returns for fish and fishers.

4. No resource fee applies to commercial catch, which leads to overfishing of inshore stocks. Kaimoana is not readily available in areas traditionally fished by recreational and Maori customary fishers.

4. Apply a resource rental levy to commercial catch. Reset catch limits so fish stocks can recover to abundant levels and to restore biodiversity.

5. Wastage from dumping and high grading of fish occurs because fishers cannot access sufficient rights to cover all catch taken in mixed, bulk harvest fisheries.

5. Multi-species time-limited fishing permits, effort limits, gear controls and mandatory onboard monitoring of commercial catches.

6. Inadequate funding for effective research, monitoring and policing of fishing.

6. Initiate independent monitoring of

Steps to abundance 

Rescue Fish requires the Crown to buy back existing commercial quota shares in the inshore fisheries at fair value. The combination of the initial buy-back and an equally large ongoing revenue stream from selling fishing permits with attached resource rentals means this would be at least fiscally neutral to the Crown over the long term.

How does the Government make it happen?

1) The Crown will buy-back all existing commercial quota shares in the inshore fishery at fair value. Estimated buy-back cost is between $0.76 billion and $3.1 billion, with a mid-point of $1.67 billion.

2) A new Fisheries Act will include explicit criteria to guide catch allocation decisions and encourage innovation. Priority will be given to Maori customary and public fishing.

3) Effort limits and gear controls will apply to commercial fishing. Bottom trawling and dredging will be banned from inshore waters.

4) Fixed term commercial permits will be leased, time limited and have a resource rental attached. Rental payments to the Crown will apply to landed catch. Iwi will receive an agreed percentage of the rental revenue.

5) Independent electronic monitoring and cameras on all commercial vessels will help officials monitor and validate catches, and help protect vulnerable species such as seabirds and mammals.

6) Decentralise commercial fishing effort to encourage local participation and promote regional economies. This will help to discourage inefficient investment and effort.

Public support for reform

Recent research shows that many people want the Government to reform fisheries. New Zealanders support the Government to buy back the existing fishing quota. They also want changes made so commercial fishers pay a resource rental fee for the fish they harvest. The original resource rental levy applying to commercial fishing was abandoned in 1994.

Resource rental income from commercial fishing could be used to effectively monitor fishing, and to give Maori a meaningful return for their Treaty Settlement commercial fishing interests.

When Maori are not fishing with a permit for customary purposes, fishing to feed the whanau is categorised as recreational fishing. Total recreational catch in New Zealand is estimated to be around 10,000 tonnes per annum. In shared (mostly inshore) fisheries recreational catch represents around 19% of annual harvest. Nationwide we spend around $946 million every year on our recreational fishing.

Our research shows that New Zealanders are concerned.

77% of New Zealanders think fish stocks within the 12 nautical mile territorial limit are becoming less abundant.

69% of New Zealanders think not enough is being done to stop dumping of unwanted catch by commercial fishers.

67% of New Zealanders support the Government doing further work to reform fisheries, to make sure they become abundant and commercial fishers pay a resource rental.

57% of New Zealanders support banning bottom trawling that destroys habitats and targets small fish in the inshore fishery.

54% of New Zealanders agree that commercial fishers should be required to have their catch independently monitored, including cameras on their vessels.

100% Marine protection

As fish stocks are depleted and the inshore environment is degraded, the calls for marine protection grow louder. Most often this translates into a demand for more marine reserves. However, a reserve is no protection against wider biodiversity loss, as we have witnessed with Goat Island marine reserve. For example, there are now fewer crayfish in the reserve than there were in 1995, a sad reflection of the depleted crayfish population on the northeast coast of the North Island.

Rescue Fish has been designed to restore fish abundance and marine biodiversity by ensuring 100% marine protection for our inshore waters.

To achieve success, the Government needs to take back control of our inshore fisheries by dismantling the Quota Management System and the accumulated power associated with quota rights. Then we can start to implement change by:

1) Resetting catch limits to enable fish stocks to be restored to 50% of the natural stock size.

2) Banning inshore bottom trawling and dredging.

3) Auctioning commercial fishing permits that provide a resource rental return to the country on every kilo of fish landed.

4) Issuing commercial permits for mixed finfish species, not single species. Electronic monitoring and onboard cameras will be mandatory.

5) Empowering coastal communities to restart their fishing businesses and employing local people.

6) Making commercial fishing an attractive option for young people who want to be at sea.

7) Ensuring conservation by monitoring recreational fishing regulations to keep pace with a growing fish resource.

8) Using a range of measures including Maori customary management tools to enable finer scale management of regional waters to meet local needs.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

July 2020 - Legasea
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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